Patent wars: Peacekeeping venue chosen for major summit

The United Nations, founded in 1945 after World War II, is best known for its stated aim of the “achievement of world peace”.united nations logo

So, with technology companies at war with each other over alleged patent breaches, it is fitting that the UN in Geneva is the chosen venue for a pow-wow, between the biggest players in the industry, to discuss intellectual property.

The sit-down follows a flurry of legal action, law suits and counterclaims, involving smartphone manufacturers.

Google, Apple, Microsoft, Huawei, Motorola and Samsung are just some of the firms attending the International Telecommunication Union conference. The organisation is the arm of the UN with responsibility for making sure phone Apple logomakers agree to standards which will allow their devices to interact with each other.

And, while the conference doesn’t, on the face of it, sound like the most scintillating of events, it is sure to get participants hot under the collar as the issue of patent infringement is the hottest concern among technology firms at the moment.

Millions, sometimes billions, of dollars have been at stake for the manufacturers as court case after court case seeks to determine whether innovations have been unlawfully copied.samsung logo

In the most high-profile case to date, Samsung was ordered to pay Apple £1bn in damages after a jury ruled it had infringed several of Apple’s design and software patents. And in a counter attack, Samsung, which is also appealing that decision, is claiming Apple’s iPhones infringe eight of its own technology developments.

That case will involve two patents, known as Frands, and it is Frands which the Geneva conference is due to discuss.

To give them their full name – fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory-type patents exist to make sure innovations, recognised as being critical to an industry standard, are shared as long as fair costs are paid for their use.

It means that once a patent is registered as a Frand, the licence holder has to allow third parties to use it without charging them an excessive fee. The standard is designed to protect consumers by preventing gadgets from becoming prohibitively expensive for people to buy.

ITU secretary-general Hamadoun Toure said: “We are seeing an unwelcome trend in today’s marketplace to use standard Hamadoun Toureessential patents to block markets.”

But already, technology firms have voiced their differences on the matter. Apple, Microsoft and Cisco have all called for rules to be changed to make sure products cannot be banned from the shelves on the basis of standard-essential patents.

But chip-maker Qualcomm has warned that altering legislation could, in fact, give rise to more litigation rather than less as it would encourage firms to resist their inventions being classed as standard-essential.

So, given the arguments are certain to continue inside the conference, and that the conference is not discussing patents not covered by Frand legislation, there is no end in sight to the legal action surrounding smartphone manufacturers. Not even the UN can achieve peace in the crowded smartphone market.