MADISON, Wis. — Samsung Electronics pulled off two big patent-licensing agreements over the last 48 hours: one with Google on a broad agreement to cross-license each other's patents; another with Ericsson, putting an end to the ongoing battle with the Swedish telecom giant. Samsung, which had been accused of infringing Ericsson's broad range of patents including LTE, has now agreed to pay Ericsson $650 million in compensation and royalty payments thereafter.
While the two separate licensing deals are very different, these Samsung moves signal the company's eagerness to get back into the business of innovation, rather than getting stuck in the downward spiral of competition-by-lawsuit.
Is the mobile industry suddenly seeing the wisdom of "patent peace"?
It's likely. Or, more to the point, the mobile industry is maturing to the point where more cross-licensing agreements seem almost inevitable among key players in the smartphone market.
Ron Epstein, principal at Epicenter IP Group, calls this "a fair assessment." Epstein, who formerly served as director of licensing at Intel Corp. and saw how the PC industry's patent battle played out, told EE Times in a phone interview, "The platform battle [in smartphones], initiated by patent wars, is coming to an end."
Should other Android OEMs worry?
However, the Google-Samsung cross-licensing deal, struck Sunday, appears to raise more questions than answers. It is said to cover existing patents as well as some that would be filed during the next 10 years. Neither company disclosed which patents/technologies are covered. Nor did they disclose the amount of money that exchanged hands.
Not knowing which patents will be covered by this exclusive cross-licensing agreement between Google and Samsung could concern other Android OEMs, says Francis Sideco, senior director of consumer electronics and communications technologies at IHS. Depending on the content of the deal, "this could be a non-event or a big event for OEMs," says Sideco. System OEMs should want to know, he told us, how available those new innovations -- coming out of the cross-licensing agreement between the two giants -- will become to other Android OEMs.
Epstein is less worried. "Look, 99.9 percent of innovations are based on transfers [of expertise and knowledge] between companies and plagiarism." In other words, Epstein holds a long view that the innovations that emerge in the future from the Google/Samsung cross-licensing agreement will eventually trickle down to other OEMs.
Further, noting that 99.9 percent of smartphones, either by Apple, Samsung, or Microsoft, are using "the same features," Epstein calls the ongoing Apple-Samsung patent suits "laughable." The principle that the Google/Samsung agreement represents is, "You borrow from me and I borrow from you."
In essence, Epstein describes the Google/Samsung deal as "more like a NAFTA treaty than an armistice agreement." Given the reality that Google and Samsung do an awful lot of business together, "the two companies decided to trade patents and cooperate with each other," Epstein concludes.