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OpenWave fires ten-gun patent broadsides at Apple AND Google

The enemy of my enemy is ... also my enemy

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications

Apple and Google will find themselves on the same side of the patent court defending against Unwired Planet, which has accused the pair of infringing 20 patents filed while it was known as OpenWave.

The 20 patents are split between the defendants, ten for Apple and ten for Google, but it's hard to find any which equally apply to either company so we're assuming this is just an opening gambit. OpenWave, as the company was known, was a real pioneer at the time when WAP was cutting edge, men were real men etc, so the patents are very broad and defence will probably rest on challenging their validity rather than working around them.

United States Patent No. 6,532,446, for example, covers "Server based speech recognition user interface for wireless devices", and is attested against Apple but could (and no-doubt will) apply to Google too. Apple is also accused of infringing in "Web Based Provisioning of Two-Way Mobile Communications Devices", which could apply to any smartphone these days.

Not that Google's selection is any more specific - "Method and Apparatus for Informing Wireless Clients about Updated Information", or "updates" as we know them, and "Efficient Location Determination for Mobile Units" which covers the use of multiple radios to deduce location, as employed by Google, Apple, Nokia and even BAE Systems, if the patent is proved to be valid.

But these patents aren't broad because they were filed by a troll looking to make money: OpenWave was genuinely breaking new ground and doing things which had never been done before. Before the smartphone explosion OpenWave was the sensible choice for the phone manufacturer or Head of Enabling Software*. It came with operator services and an application suite the company would happily port to your embedded OS of choice.

But that was a decade ago, and last August the company publicly recognised that its most valuable asset was its patent portfolio. At that time it filed a complaint against Apple and RIM with the ITC, the US authority which can ban imports if it thinks a patent case is clear, in a case which is still ongoing. These two actions are additional to that complaint.

So focused is Unwired Planet, as the company is now known, on patent resolution that it has relocated operations to Nevada which (the company explains) "has developed specialized procedures to handle complex patent cases" and will thus get to adjudicate on the patents in question.

The emergence of such a venerable player will raise the stakes in the patent battle. Expect most of the mobile industry to be reading through the patents now, and counting their pennies to work out if it might be easier to just buy Unwired Planet and turn an enemy into a potentially-valuable weapon.®

*A position your correspondent held at O2 just when OpenWave was at its peak.

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