Thursday, March 31, 2011

New smartphone patent suit also targets app developers: H-W Technology sues 32 parties

I just finished my blog post on Android patent suit no. 38 (which also targets RIM and Microsoft), and then found out about the next smartphone suit that claims patent infringement by Android (also other platforms, but most of the devices mentioned in the complaint are Android phones). When will this ever end?

A Texas-based company named H-W Technology L.C. filed a complaint in Northern Texas yesterday, asserting US Patent No. 7,525,955 on an "Internet protocol (IP) phone with search and advertising capability" against 32 legal entities. The patent holder claims that the patent covers systems and methods that "allow users of [smartphones] via domain specific applications to receive information and offers from merchants and to complete a transaction with one of said merchants without having to generate a voice call."

What's really disconcerting about this lawsuit is that it's the first such lawsuit to attack -- besides operating system vendors and device makers, which are routinely sued by patent holders -- a number of companies because of their smartphone apps. I'm really afraid we're now going to see more patent lawsuits against application developers. Hopefully this won't ever affect little guys who can't afford to defend themselves, but if there's a major company behind an app, or if an app is commercially very successful, it can happen and it has now apparently started to happen.

I have analyzed the infringement allegations in H-W Technology's complaint. They are not overly specific, but there's enough information in the complaint that I can group them by category:

  • Google and Microsoft are sued for providing software that is installed on smartphones. With respect to Microsoft, the Windows Phone 7-powered Samsung Focus is mentioned. In Google's case, the Android application store is mentioned.

  • Device makers: specifically named products include the iPhone, the BlackBerry Torch, and five Android devices (LG G2x, Samsung Galaxy S, Motorola Droid X, HTC Thunderbolt, and Kyocera Echo).

  • All of the accused apps are basically mobile online shops:'s, eBay's,'s, Expedia's,'s, Orbitz Worldwide's and's apps, and Verizon's VCast app.

The complaint is relatively long because it has to handle a long list of defendants (32 legal entities; I summarized them in the above list because in some cases there's more than one legal entity named in connection with the same brand name).

I can't say I'm impressed with the complaint. For example, Nokia and Sony Ericsson are also named as defendants but I couldn't find any accused products from those companies in the complaint. But like I said before, this is a "first" in the sense that companies are sued over a patent that allegedly reads on their smartphone apps.

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