When I opened up my reader yesterday afternoon, the number of unreads was way, and I mean way, higher than normal. I knew something had to be up, and boy was it. Apple filed a patent suit against HTC, and by proxy Google, in both federal court and the ITC claiming infrigment on 20 patents. (The nitty-gritty details of the patent claims can be found at Engadget)

Now, not being a lawyer, I have no idea if Apple has a case or not. In fact, I am not even sure why Apple is filing the lawsuit. Apple has been wildly successful lately, generating tons of profits, gaining marketshare, and waging a patent fight against a large entity like Google is sure to end in a stalemate. I can only figure that Apple is trying to achieve one of the following:

  • Apple needs to show they are enforcing their patents to make their Nokia case stick. Earlier this year, Nokia went after Apple, claiming patent infringement. Of course, Apple retaliated and sued Nokia for patent violation. Nokia has a history of defending and licensing their patents. Apple – not so much. Apple’s legal team may need to establish patent defense in order to win their Nokia case.
  • Apple wants access to HTC or Google patents. I would suspect that Apple would be more interested in Google ad patents, especially their recently granted patent on location-based advertising. Perhaps Apple is concerned that Google would try to block their advertising intentions and want to head any suit off before it gets started by establishing a cross-licensing arrangement.
  • Apple is defending market share. Even though Apple is gaining market share, Android is grwoing much faster (albeit from a smaller base). Apple could feel threatened by Android, although I don’t perceive Apple as being that paranoid – they haven’t been in the past.
  • Apple is getting greedy. Perhaps Apple wants to eliminatelimit competition by handicapping key features in the competition’s handsets. The problem with this strategy is that there are so many patents flying around that the iPhone is inevitably infringing on patents held by either HTC, Google, or others. Patent lawsuits between big companies almost always end up in cross-licensing agreements.

I haven’t been able to wade through my reader far enough to see Google’s response to all of this, but I’m willing to bet big dollars that HTC or Google will file a countersuit listing all of the patents that Apple violates, either with the iPhone or other products. In the end, a cross-licensing agreement will be reached and no one loses, except, of course, us.

Yes, the big loser in the mobile patent war between Nokia, Apple, HTC and Google will be you and me, the mobile consumer. Filing, executing, and defending patents costs money, a lot of money. The work required to investigate and license patents slows innovation and delays the arrival of new features and innovative handsets. The costs of patents is passed on to us through higher costs for handsets. In effect, patents have become a tax that businesses assess the consumer.

It’s unfortunate that the manufacturers in the mobile market are resorting to patent lawsuits to slow each other down, raise costs and hinder innovation. I hope that these companies, who are supposed to be servicing us their customers, not fleecing them, come quickly to their senses, reach an amicable agreement, and continue to compete in the marketplace where we, the consumers, determine the winners and losers, and not in the courtroom where judges determine the winners and losers by the letter of the law, not by the rules of the marketplace.