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Apple Loads Its Guns for Patent War

By Richard Adhikari MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Nov 29, 2010 12:12 PM PT

Apple appears to be beefing up its legal team as it fights an unprecedented number of patent battles.

Apple Loads Its Guns for Patent War

It has reportedly hired some of the nation's top lawyers as outside counsel, and it is advertising several openings in its legal department.

Apple has had more patent lawsuits filed against it in United States district courts than any other high-tech company since 2005, Greg Upchurch, director of research at LegalMetric, told MacNewsWorld.

This could be because the battle for the mobile market is heating up and lawsuits are one way of fighting off the competition.

"There seems to be more than a bit of competitive strategizing going on here, both on Apple's part and that of other vendors," Charles King, principal at Pund-IT, told MacNewsWorld.

Cupertino's Legal Build-Up

Apple's retained some of the top patent lawyers in the U.S. as outside counsel, Bloomberg reported. The includes names like Robert Krupka of Kirkland & Ellis, William Lee of Boston law firm WilmerHale, and Matt Powers of Weil, Gotshal Manges.

Earlier this year, Apple hired Noreen Krall, formerly chief intellectual property counsel for Sun Microsystems.

Further, Cupertino's advertising a total of 17 jobs in its legal department on its website.

These range from legal counsel in litigation to corporate law paralegal to senior counsel for strategy and licensing.

Keeping the Courts Busy

Cupertino's going to need the muscle -- it's facing patent lawsuits from Elan, Motorola, Microsoft, Kodak, Wi-LAN, Nokia, HTC and NTP. Meanwhile, Apple's also on the offense -- it's suing Motorola, HTC and Nokia.

HTC representative Rickey Bird declined to add to the information his company released when it first announced it was suing Apple.

Apple's been involved in a total of 141 patent suits in U.S. district courts since 2005, according to LegalMetric. Microsoft comes in second among high-tech firms with 110, HP is third with 98, Dell is fourth with 90 and Motorola is fifth with 87.

This year alone, Apple has been involved in 42 patent suits, according to LegalMetric's figures. The firm only monitors cases filed in U.S. district courts. Runner-up HP is involved in 27, and Motorola and AT&T tied for third place with 19 patent suits each. Microsoft has been involved in only 10 patent suits this year.

Sosumi's Not Just a Tune

Why so many cases? And why now?

"I suspect it's because there's a lot of money involved," LegalMetric's Upchurch said.

"I believe Apple got sued because the iPhone made a big difference in the marketplace, and when that happens, everybody starts focusing on that segment of the market. Lots of companies suing Apple have patents, and lots of these probably cover what Apple's doing, and of course they're suing to get their share," Upchurch added.

Apple's lawsuits against HTC and Android apparently only cover those models that run on the Android operating system (OS), triggering speculation that Cupertino's trying to halt the Google OS's rapid growth.

"'Binge' seems to be an apt description so far as the Android lawsuits go," Pund-IT's King remarked.

Google issued a statement in March after Apple filed suit against HTC stating it will stand behind Android and its partners, although it didn't clarify whether that included helping fund their legal battles.

"We're going to decline comment here -- we released a statement previously when the lawsuit was filed," Google spokesperson Aaron Zamost told MacNewsWorld when asked about the Apple lawsuit.

A Little Bloodletting Goes a Long Way

Chances are that most of the lawsuits will be settled out of court.

"The outcomes of patent suits aren't at all certain," LegalMetric's Upchurch pointed out.

"The chance of getting to trial is 2 to 3 percent of all cases. Even if they go to trial, the patent owner wins only about 70 percent of the time, so both sides are likely to come to some sort of business arrangement," Upchurch explained.

Generally, both parties know at the summary judgment or claim construction stage who's probably going to win, Upchurch elaborated. At that point, they settle in 90 percent of the cases.

Apple did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

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