Meet The Patent Thicket: Who's Suing Who For Smartphone Patents

from the now,-with-more-troll dept

A few folks this week sent over a story in the Guardian by Josh Halliday and Charles Arthur with a graphic purporting to show who was suing who in the smartphone space, following the news that Microsoft had sued Motorola. You can see that graphic here:
mobilelawsuits-rvs-460
Meanwhile, someone in our comments had pointed to a very similar graphic.

The problem is that both of these graphics are wrong. The Guardian one admits that it was built off of the NY Times post from back in March that that showed a similar graphic, which we wrote about at the time. Here's that graphic:
bits-suepatent2-blogSpan
However, Joe Mullin quickly pointed out that the graphic was wrong and included a bunch of lawsuits that never happened. NY Times blogger Nick Bilton posted a correction to his story way back in March... so I'm unclear on why the two Guardian reporters were still using that as the basis of their own drawing.

Either way, with Motorola suing Apple for patent infringement, the already wrong graphic was now also out of date. So, I figured why not create my own, correcting the original errors and adding in the new information.

I ended up spending many hours on it, because once I started, I realized that to really show the state of the patent thicket, I couldn't just include the big name companies that were suing each other, because that's only a part of the story. What about all of the non-practicing entities (so-called "patent trolls"), who were suing lots of these companies for infringement as well? Doesn't that matter in understanding the thicket? Of course, there are lots of them, so I focused on the higher profile NPE lawsuits -- the ones involving multiple defendants -- and added them to the chart too (in green). And then, I added in a few other companies who actually make stuff but have been suing as well. Once you start, it's difficult to know where to stop. There are so many companies involved in so many lawsuits, some you just have to leave out. However, I believe the image below gives you at least some sort of picture of the lawsuit situation concerning smartphones. Some of these lawsuits have settled, but many are still ongoing.
smartphonethicket(3)
Now, here's the crazy part: this is just lawsuits. I thought about showing licensing deals in this chart as well, but that would have killed my whole weekend (in fact, just as I was finishing up this post, I saw that Microsoft has just licensed 74 smartphone patents from Acacia). And then I thought about including companies like Intellectual Ventures which apparently are sitting on a bunch of other smartphone patents but haven't yet sued over them. However, I'd already wasted hours that could have been spent doing other, less brain-damaging work, and decided to leave it like this and move on.

Anyway, I'd say this does a damn good job demonstrating the concept of a patent thicket. It also explains how such thickets are hindering innovation. Anyone who wants to get into the smartphone business knows that they're facing lawsuits from a large number of the companies listed on the graphic.

Update: Someone just pointed out that Ars Technica apparently made their own graphic, which is really pretty.... but also relies on the same bad data that the NY Times used and corrected months ago.

Update 2: Apparently everyone had the same idea. The folks at Information is Beautiful made another version of the same chart... again including the incorrect information from the NY Times (though, at least they admit those lawsuits are about LCD price fixing, not patents).


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 8th, 2010 @ 9:39am

    the lawyers

    the lawyers are very innovative at finding new job opportunities at the expense of progress.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 8th, 2010 @ 9:39am

    Why do you doubt the patent office's ability to grant a good patent. Never underestimate them, they might just do it one day and then you'll be sorry that you ever doubted them.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 8th, 2010 @ 9:40am

    Re: the lawyers

    It's judicial innovation at work.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 8th, 2010 @ 9:45am

    Perhaps tangentially related:

    "If after ten years we find it's really as good as it promises, we will put a hundred patent lawyers on it to write a hundred patents a day, and you will spend the rest of your life, and the gross domestic product of your little island, suing us."

    http://science.slashdot.org/story/10/10/08/1536242/Why-Geim-Never-Patented-Graphene

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 8th, 2010 @ 9:55am

    I may have found a more accurate graphic:

    http://www.clipartguide.com/_pages/0808-0711-0812-3651.html

    It's all just money passing around in a big circle getting no one anywhere faster.

    I was at first convinced that abuse and perversion of IP law would be a dominant reason that the US would steadily fall in terms of progress and even basic civil rights, but seems IP law and procedure will be the real culprits.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 8th, 2010 @ 10:01am

    This is a clear case when a law is broken. If the law wasn't broken, we would see just one or two sporadic lawsuits. What we see here is a tangled up web of lawsuits that benefit no one (other than the lawyers probably) and promote no progress. How can anyone defend a system that allows this? What is the advantage?

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 8th, 2010 @ 10:18am

    Re:

    (more importantly, the real question is, is there such thing as a good patent).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    John Doe, Oct 8th, 2010 @ 10:24am

    This is why patents need to go...

    Your diagram perfectly illustrates why patents hold back innovation rather than encouraging it. Every little piece of a device is patented by different companies so nobody can build the whole thing without violating lots of patents. This ends up in big lawsuit settlements or licensing fees which ultimately comes out of the consumers pockets.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Oct 8th, 2010 @ 10:26am

    Suggestion ... next time do the graphic with all the companies in a circle. Its neater and easier to read.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 8th, 2010 @ 10:36am

    Re:

    I think he did it that way on purpose...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
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    R. Miles (profile), Oct 8th, 2010 @ 10:36am

    Suckers.

    Those people paying a monthly fee for "services" when they're really paying for patent payouts.

    Of course, AT&T must be hurting given their recent unlimited plan drop.

    No wonder these companies want to charge by the byte.

    Cellphone-free and have been very happy because of it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    icon
    slacker525600 (profile), Oct 8th, 2010 @ 10:39am

    Re:

    I agree, but dont think a circle is always the best.
    I would like to see a little spreadsheet of data instead of this mess.
    Id also like to know if the chart was done freehand or with a program designed to draw graphs. because there is free software out there for this sort of thing... my first thought is http://www.graphviz.org/

     

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  13.  
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    Designerfx (profile), Oct 8th, 2010 @ 10:46am

    Re:

    when you have this many interconnecting lines, a circle isn't going to make it easier

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 8th, 2010 @ 10:54am

    Re: Re:

    I stumbled upon one called yEd when researching about graph drawing applications. It looked nice and easy to use, and had automatic layout. It was freeware too (not open-source though, I think).

    Graphviz works tough. Once you get the option down right that is.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 8th, 2010 @ 11:00am

    I think one can use Blender to create a interactive model of that to show not only the actual lawsuits but the ones in the past showing the growing litigious nature of that scheme and the consequences.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
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    Comboman (profile), Oct 8th, 2010 @ 11:14am

    Re: Re:

    Based on the look of the spline-curve arrows, I'd bet good money it was created in Visio.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    fogbugzd (profile), Oct 8th, 2010 @ 11:50am

    Firms with only incoming arrows

    I have to have respect for companies with only incoming arrows. Of course, my respect isn't worth much.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    Jay (profile), Oct 8th, 2010 @ 12:39pm

    I'm surprised to see AT&T hasn't sued much on patent issues...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Oct 8th, 2010 @ 1:41pm

    Re: Re:

    Id also like to know if the chart was done freehand or with a program designed to draw graphs. because there is free software out there for this sort of thing... my first thought is http://www.graphviz.org/

    I used Gliffy, which is an online web-based chart making thing.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), Oct 8th, 2010 @ 1:42pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Based on the look of the spline-curve arrows, I'd bet good money it was created in Visio.


    How much are you willing to bet? :)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Andreas, Oct 8th, 2010 @ 1:43pm

    you can see in ten seconds that all three infographics actually try to make it look more confusing than it is. So it's not really infographics, but more making fun of what's happening. What's the point of having the arrow between google and oracle cross other arrows, when they're not involved with the other companies at all? That's how populism works.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Oct 8th, 2010 @ 1:55pm

    Re:

    So it's not really infographics

    Is there anything wrong in the graphic?

    making fun of what's happening

    It doesn't need me to make fun of it to be ridiculous. That's kind of the point.

    What's the point of having the arrow between google and oracle cross other arrows, when they're not involved with the other companies at all?

    You try fitting all this info on a graph. I spent hours on this damn thing trying to make it as clear as possible. I was literally moving around all the boxes to try to limit the cross overs and stuff, and at some point I just realized it was impossible.

    That's how populism works.

    Uh no.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 8th, 2010 @ 4:42pm

    Wonder how long before the Times tries to sue someone for redrawing their chart?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 8th, 2010 @ 5:26pm

    Re:

    Read some books on graph drawing and then you'll see how much of a pain it is to draw these thing "right". But if you think you can do better, by all means, provide a better picture.

    The fact that the diagram is a mess only accentuates the fact that this patent warfare is a also a huge mess and that the patent system is definitely broken.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    freak, Oct 8th, 2010 @ 8:41pm

    Rock, paper, Scissors?

    I think you could totally make a rock-paper-scissors variant from these graphs . . .

    "3-2-1 . . . Google!"
    "Oracle! Oracle sues Google, I win!"
    "Best 2 of 3? 3-2-1 . . . Qualcomm!"
    "Nokia! Shoot, we both lose . . ."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
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    Vincent Clement, Oct 9th, 2010 @ 4:17pm

    Perhaps RJR can tell us how this patent thicket is promoting the progress of science and useful arts? It seems the only people making money from this are the lawyers.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    staff, Oct 9th, 2010 @ 4:53pm

    modern patents

    "thickets are hindering innovation"

    Not so. Without patents there would be no small companies developing technologies pushing large entrenched firms. Wonder why science has progressed so much more in the last 200 years than in the previous 5000? Patents. It wasn't until the introduction of modern patents that science really found its stride.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    staff-infection, Oct 9th, 2010 @ 11:09pm

    Re: modern patents

    "Wonder why science has progressed so much more in the last 200 years than in the previous 5000? Patents. "

    First of all, you're either a shyster or an ignoramus. You make many erroneous statements staff and this is just the latest display of ignorance or flat out lies, about patents.

    1. Patents have been around since (at least) 500BC. The formal 20+ year patents are 560+ years old (not 200) and idea patents (the culprit) didn't really get going until dot com insanity at the turn of the century. So, given over 360 years of the 20+ year patents, the only thing they did, was to give ownership of industry to those who had the means to pursue patents. The system became unbearable with entrenched patent hoarders dictating the pace of innovation (Which is where we find our selves yet again). You can see in this graph, that the system went off the rails in 1998, the year State Street opened the door for idea patents. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7a/US_patents_1790-2008.png . In short, patents were then and are now, a king's sport.

    2. There are no honest economic historians who would back you up on the claim, BTW. If you had any knowledge of the historical roll that patents played in the development of the industrial backbone (which actually ushered in the tipping point for advancement), you would be ashamed of your comment. So I'm just going to presume ignorance on that one.

    3. The roll of patents up to the 1970's was somewhat justified, though at that time, they're stated requirements were vastly harder to satisfy than they are today. Process patents essentially destroyed what value the patent system had. If you actually loved the patent system, you would support a ban on imagination monopolies. The presumed validity of patents is gone now and that makes more work and waste for everyone. Except you and others that exploit the broken system. It's managed to make many of you very wealthy.

    4. You show me a list of patent wins for independent inventors, and I'll build you a 10 to 1 ratio of inventors that got smacked down by the hand of patents. You can't deny that the independent inventor gets hosed far more often than he gets paid, can you? because that's just not supported by the statistics, staff.

    5. and, I didn't even want to respond to this one, because it's so ridiculous, but.. here it goes: "Without patents there would be no small companies developing technologies pushing large entrenched firms.".

    So what would the small companies be doing? How would they compete? Are you suggesting that there would be no small companies if the USPTO were shuttered tomorrow? That's funny, because nearly all of the patents that drag the system into the state that it's in today, wouldn't have existed until the dot com bubble really started inflating, and the USPTO was suddenly granting patents for "a process where in a user ".

    So, yeah...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    Jenrose, Oct 11th, 2010 @ 1:26pm

    This is why we can't have nice things.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    David, Oct 11th, 2010 @ 2:13pm

    Try your own

    If someone else doesn't update it, just create your own - http://www.jgraph.com/demo/mxgraph/editors/suegraph.html.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    J, Oct 11th, 2010 @ 11:47pm

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/floorsixtyfour/5060806793/

    If you upload someone else's work to Flickr, should you not make damn clear in the title or description who did it? You've even released it under an Attribution license with no clue who to attribute it to.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    Caroline, Oct 30th, 2010 @ 6:52am

    Patent lawyers

    Give those patent lawyers and patent trolls a piece of wood and let them Play with it and leave the rest of the normal world alone.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    Jose_X, Nov 17th, 2010 @ 9:41pm

    Re: modern patents

    Oh, please, just look at open source software to see how wrong you are about the small firms not inventing things without patents.

    And it's the large firms that abuse the system. It should plainly be put into law without any changes to the market that patents can only be used against large firms if what you say is true.

    Science is about information (not traditionally the subject of patents, I don't think) and that took off after the printing press and has hit a new stride with the Internet.

    Want to know what else stands out in the last 200 years? A democracy was born with many freedoms and a bunch of land and raw materials to be conquered and exploited. It's also true that we copied many inventions that were patented elsewhere but not in the US. [and this is what other nations are doing to us now as we stagnate with monopolists calling the shots]

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    sanjiv, Dec 20th, 2010 @ 8:49pm

    The article was very informative and well written. While searching for this kind of articles, I found another well written article titled"never ending mess of telecom patents". to read more please
    check..http://www.sinapseblog.com/2010/12/never-ending-mess-of-telecom-patents.html

    Thanks

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
    identicon
    Gadget | Telephone Mobile, Nov 18th, 2011 @ 7:01am

    wow

    that good info
    Read some books on graph drawing and then you'll see how much of a pain it is to draw these thing "right". But if you think you can do better, by all means, provide a better picture.

    The fact that the diagram is a mess only accentuates the fact that this patent warfare is a also a huge mess and that the patent system is definitely broken.
    iPod | iPhone | iPad Gadget | Telephone Mobile

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    icon
    akamonde (profile), Jul 15th, 2013 @ 11:54am

    products with patents

    I am pulling together a website www.productswithpatents.com to show inventors what products are patented and a ran across this. It won't be easy but I am going to try and add cell phones to the websit.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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