This week, details of two Motorola Mobility patent-oriented legal attacks against Apple and Microsoft, respectively, and both in Germany, were revealed. The goal? To obtain a small but lucrative percentage of the sales of both companies' most popular products.
According to court documents uncovered by FOSS Patents, Motorola is seeking 2.25 percent of the revenues from all Apple products covered by Motorola patents under dispute in Germany. This includes the iPhone, of course, but also perhaps the iPad. Likewise, Motorola is seeking a similar percentage of the sales of Microsoft's Windows OS and Xbox video game console.
The revelations come at a time when various technology firms are either aggressively suing others for alleged patent violations (Apple, Samsung, others) or seeking to cross-license their patents (Microsoft).
Not coincidentally, I suspect, Apple has separately asked the European Telecommunications Standards Institute, a telecommunications standards body, to establish formal rules governing how companies license their patents to one another.
And thanks to repeated attempts by Motorola, Samsung, and others to ban the sale of Apple products around the world, Apple is also seeking to prevent that kind of enforcement. Irony alert: Apple has sought exactly this kind of enforcement in several countries as well.
But wait, there's more. Online giant Google—whose Android mobile OS has clearly benefited more than any other system from, shall we say, loose respect for patent licensing—is in the process of buying Motorola Mobility. Many suspect the firm is doing so only to belatedly protect Android with Motorola's vast mobility-oriented patent portfolio. And this week, Google pledged to "fairly license" Motorola's patents. So, we can safely put Google in the Microsoft camp (license first, sue as a last resort) when it comes to patents.
Microsoft currently receives patent-based royalty payments on approximately 70 percent of all Android device sales, thanks to its licensing and cross-licensing agreements with various hardware makers. Motorola is not among these firms, though this week's news suggests that could change—if Microsoft pays up in the opposite direction.
As for Motorola's attempts to seize a piece of other firms' financial windfalls, there is indeed big money involved. The Wall Street Journal this week estimated that 2.25 percent of Apple's iPhone business alone would have amounted to over $1 billion in royalties in 2011, for example.