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Openwave sues: Asks for halt on iPad, iPhone, BlackBerry

Long-abrew patent stormcloud finally rains down

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Mobile pioneer Openwave has launched action against Apple and RIM, claiming patent infringements and asking for a ban on US imports of Apple and RIM's infringing kit as well as the traditional damages.

Openwave's action sees claims filed with a Delaware court which state that both Apple and RIM are infringing Openwave's patents. That action is accompanied by the now-routine filing with the US International Trade Commission for a ban on US imports of infringing products.

Those products include RIM's BlackBerry Curve and PlayBook, and just about all of Apple's iOS devices, which are accused of infringing patents covering such basics as composing email while offline and over-the-air application updating. But what is surprising is not that Openwave is taking action, but that it has taken so long for the company that used to be synonymous with mobile internet to get litigious.

Openwave was formed more than a decade ago when Phone.com and Software.com merged to create an internet browser and supporting application suite which could be sold to handset manufacturers and/or network operators. That suite included messaging and synchronisation clients, as well as the servers they relied on.

While doing that, the company created all sorts of innovative technologies and techniques for managing mobile data, but what it clearly failed to do was create a solid patent portfolio on the back of those developments.

That was admitted in an open letter from CEO Ken Denman, which explains that Openwave decided, two years ago, to get itself straightened out and begin making some money. That involved paying off Myriad, as that company had some claims over the patents and required $12m to be silenced, but with that process complete the time has come to start litigation against those companies Openwave reckons are infringing.

The complaint targets RIM and Apple, though at a glance it seems the patents could easily be applied to Android handsets too. Openwave's reticence to take on Android could be down to Android's dispersed responsibility, but it is also likely to be historical: many Android manufacturers have licensed Openwave software in the past, which could confuse the matter, and might also annoy future customers.

But Apple and RIM aren't going to be buying mobile software any time soon, and so are the obvious first targets.

The patents are described in full in the ITC complaint (40-page PDF/1MB, full of impenetrable legalese) and seem very broad, enough to ensure Openwave's financial security for a long time if upheld. The company reckons the ITC should rule within 18 months, though the courts will take a lot longer and we've yet to see how the accused companies respond. ®

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