Who’s Suing Who? A Cheat Sheet to the Mobile Patent Mess

All the legal ugliness in the phone business--and a few peaceable relationships--all on one page.

By  |  Tuesday, April 19, 2011 at 7:32 pm

So Apple is suing Samsung, accusing it of imitating Apple products with its Galaxy phones and tablets. The most startling thing about the news may be that the two companies weren’t already in court with each other. Over the past few years, the mobile industry has been so rife with suits and countersuits that if every complainant managed to sue every subject of its ire out of business…well, there’d hardly be a mobile industry left.

I had trouble remembering the precise details of the umpteen cases that have made headlines–as well as some related relationships, such as Microsoft’s licensing agreements with Amazon and HTC–so I decided to document them with a handy-dandy infographic, as much for my own edification as anyone else’s.

A few notes:

  • This covers only patent-related suits, not ones solely over trademarks, employee poaching, and other issues.
  • It only address mobile-related tussles (which is why LG’s attempt to prevent Sony from importing the PlayStation 3 into the US isn’t listed).
  • It only involves great big companies, not smaller ones who are doing some of the suing.
  • I’ve identified software and hardware companies that work together on devices (such as Microsoft and Samsung) but haven’t tried to indicate OEM and component relationships.
  • I’ve also shown some licensing relationships I know about, but there are probably others.
  • Any cases which I’ve forgotten about or didn’t know about in the first place aren’t here.

With that out of the way…

If you’ve got any corrections, additions, or thoughts about any of this, lemme know. I may update the graphic as future events warrant…although the mere thought of even more mobile legal spats cropping up is depressing me…


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49 Comments For This Post

  1. Rajendra Pondel Says:

    Nice article.

    LOL companies are fighting for technology.

    May be its “3rs World War” know at “Technology War” ?

    Btw, nice graphic.

  2. Adam Profitt Says:

    What a free market we have these days. Companies are able to compete with eachother without fear of unjust lawsuits and patent actual innovations rather than minor recombination or rehashes of someone else's idea. We truly live in a great capitalist society.

  3. Ellie Banwell Says:

    Interesting to note who generally likes to play nice and who's a bully. Google, as we might expect, like to collaborate where possible and their only acrimonious relationships are with Apple and MIcrosoft whereas those companies are suing practically everyone. Nokia seem quite open and friendly too.

  4. Ellie Banwell Says:

    As do Motorola.

  5. Mike Cerm Says:

    I would say that you're taking a highly charitable view regarding Google's position. The alternative view would be that their partners (notice, only handset makers), are happy about getting a "free" operating system. That "free" operating system infringes a lot of Microsoft's and Apple's patents. Rather than sue Google directly, Microsoft and Apple are suing the handset makers first. After all, it's the handset makers that are actually selling Android devices, not Google, and it's a lot easier to seek specific per-unit monetary damages from companies profiting directly from infringement. A suit against Google would be more difficult to quantify.

  6. Dan Says:

    Alternatively, you are a troll.

    “Good artists copy, great artists steal. And we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.” – Steve Jobs,

    Of course, Microsoft suing isn't quite as bad as Microsoft's ex- CTO Nathan Myhrvold in his second coming as professional patent troll, but that's another story. American "innovation" at its best.

  7. SMP Says:

    That is the classic definition of a patent troll. A patent troll accumulates junk patents and then goes sueing to extort as much cash as possible CLAIMING that their "inventions" such as double clicking etc. are infringed. Like any self respecting extortionist, trolls of course target the weak who will capitulate and settle. If they challenged someone who is willing to fight back, then the likelihood is that they will lose. This is exactly what Microsoft is doing.

    Microsoft used to be a software company once. They are now the classic patent troll.

  8. Jeff Says:

    With all its law suits,It surprises me that Microsoft is not suing itself.

    Also worth noting: no company is shown collaborating with itself – can we read anything into this?

  9. Apple Isn't God Says:

    Apple seemed to be the biggest bully, as statistics proved.

  10. child care perth Says:

    that is funny. apple is going for it.
    if you cant sell – hen suing is the way

  11. Josh Says:

    If only the rule of parsimony rang true in journalism… only half of the chart is necessary. Split it along the diagonal.

  12. Harry McCracken Says:

    I considered other formats, but decided I liked this best, and yes, I know each relationship is shown twice. Your mileage may well vary…


  13. Mike Cerm Says:

    This chart is a good start, but it doesn't tell the whole story. There's lots of patents which are licensed throughout the industry without lawsuits. For example, Qualcomm basically invented CDMA (possibly infringing Broadcom's patents in the process). If you look at the chart, it kind of looks that Nokia is the only one playing nice with Qualcomm, when in fact everyone on this list licenses IP from Qualcomm. Likewise, Nokia has the most GSM-related patents, which they also license to everyone on the list.

    So, while this may cover most of the lawsuits, it really under-represents how interconnected the industry really is.

  14. Harry McCracken Says:

    Yep–I just put in a few relationships that have come up in the context of the lawsuits, such as Microsoft's arrangement with HTC. There's a lot more that's not so well publicized.


  15. rafal Says:

    Only Motorola has balls to sue microsoft?

  16. Matt Says:

    uh, where is google going after MS or apple? I think you should make it clear that it's only apple and MS suing google, not the other way around.

  17. Marcelo Says:

    Two corrections.
    Seems Microsoft is suing Apple because Microsoft wants to uses the AppStore term and Apple is suing Amazon because Amazon is using the AppStore term.

  18. Adrian Says:

    I'm gonna make this my new phone's wall paper. Brilliant.

  19. Chris Says:

    Now, lets make it so when you hover a mouse over one of the icons in the graphic you get a tool-tip like box with a summary of the lawsuit.

  20. @zappor Says:

    Here's an older one that maybe has a few extra old ones: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/04/an-explo

  21. Phil Says:

    So embarrassed for the editors of this post, not knowing when to use the word 'whom.'

  22. Harry McCracken Says:

    I know about whom, but cheerfully avoid it in instances where it would sound fussy–a policy that multiple professional copy editors of my acquaintance have been okay with.


  23. AnotherMike Says:

    Excellent and clever piece & design. I agree with Mike Cem and that Qualcomm should probably have full rows of smilies in both directions. It's ironic that the only one is with Nokia, which tried unsuccessfully, along with Broadcom, to break Q's biz model. Also, CDMA wasn't 'invented" by Qualcomm, "just" commercialized it. And there certainly wasn't any infringement on Broadcom by CDMA technology.

  24. Mike Cerm Says:

    When I said "basically invented", I kind of just meant that Qualcomm was the primary holder of CDMA-related patents, if not the exclusive holder. (Also, I wasn't aware the situation with Broadcom has already been resolved. I remembered hearing about the initial filing, and then never heard about it again.)

  25. Scott Says:

    Where is HP Palm???

  26. Bob Says:

    notice it is Microsoft and Google that have the most suits going???? both are not worth the paper they are written on….

  27. SMP Says:

    Yeah, Microsoft is suing and Google is being sued, and yes Microsoft's patents are junk and not worth the paper they are written on. The problem with patent law particularly with regard to software being what it is, junk patents can and still do win, which makes software patents the extortionist and racketeer's dream. With the US patent system, you can make a profitable business filing obvious and non-novel patents and then leach off other people's hard work by sueing and extorting money from them.

  28. jocaferro Says:

    Are you sure you have your glasses on!?

  29. Dace Says:

    C'mon Guys! Let's see if we can get rid of all those ugly blue squares!


  30. Clint Says:

    Don't forget Apple vs. Amazon about the App Store: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-03-21/apple-su

  31. Andy Carr Says:

    I like how every company is suing someone else and yet Qualcomm is just sitting there minding its own business.
    Makes sense, because they sure have a lot of business to mind! They raked in almost 4 billion in revenue in this quarter alone, making for almost a billion in net income.
    Nice! Those are astounding numbers for a company which I'm sure most casual phone users have never heard of.

  32. Chris Pudney Says:

    A handy chart – I've compiled a collection of similar infographics http://vislives.com/2011/04/22/looking-at-the-mob

  33. Mark Hernandez Says:

    Thanks Chris for the list! The Design Language News graphic is the easiest to look at by far and conveys the most information with the least effort on the part of the user. If the arcs were color coded by the type of lawsuit, that would be the perfect way to represent this information.

    The Guardian's infographic is the most informative with it's info bubbles.

    But I have to say that it takes too much effort to get anything out of Harry McCracken's attempt above and needs to be reworked in big ways. It's confusing, awkward and makes my head hurt and can't compete with the other graphic's means of conveying these relationships, especially in the effortless way that the Design Language News graphic does it. We should be updating that graphic instead of creating an inferior one just because one can't be "copying" it.

    Apple sued Microsoft over copying it's Macintosh user interface a long time ago and Microsoft just found other ways of doing the same thing. The result was that Windows is awkward and inconsistent in so many ways as a result, e.g. double-click to open in one place, single-click to open in another. Same thing is happening here — by not directly copying and improving upon the Design News Language graphic the result is a significantly inferior way of representing complex relationships.

    Oh well, I realize that we can't have everything and your effort is still appreciated, Harry!

    Mark Hernandez
    The information Workshop <<<<<< 🙂

  34. Chris Pudney Says:

    Sigh, broken link – try this one

  35. patent litigation Says:

    The increasingly complex web that's developed from all of the mobile patent enforcement actions is truly mind-boggling. What's more, it all seems rather wasteful, when one considers the fact that the likely result of all these lawsuits will be settlements and cross-licensing deals. How anticlimactic. http://www.generalpatent.com/media/videos/general

  36. patent litigation Says:

    The increasingly complex web that's developed from all of the mobile patent enforcement actions is truly mind-boggling. What's more, it all seems rather wasteful, when one considers the fact that the likely result of all these lawsuits will be settlements and cross-licensing deals. http://www.industryweek.com/articles/patent_enfor

  37. jared Says:

    Seems to me that companies are pushing harder than before to compete with competitors without doing the actual work of inventing new things rather just building on the work of others I think as this trend continues so will the cases of patent infringement and patent enforcement increase.

  38. Jsparco Says:

    Thanks for sharing! I'm surprised with this lawsuit. However, anyone will sue each other now… Even if it's just to stop something from going public for a week. Orlando Audio Visual

  39. Per Says:

    It's a great chart however I miss some ongoing lawsuits such as Ericsson vs. ZTE, see http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/a49e2a1a-5c85-11e0…. I would welcome an updated version.

  40. please-shut-it-down Says:

    I guess many "windows" patents approved for Microsoft should actually belong to Apple. In the end of day, entire software patent system should not exist at all. Making software code is rather simple and anyone having basic programming skills is able to "invent" the same things. There is more patent non sense and fighting between companies than anything which could really be regarded as an "invention".

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  42. ASSE Says:

    Interesting article i admit. i am a rusty reader to your site *^* i will before long replace my home page with your web site.

  43. bradholister Says:

    The apple company is suing New samsung over the parallels of the latter's Whole world cellular phones and pills to the iPhone and iPad influenced me to try to papers all the the courtroom situations including cellular patents (as well as some relevant interactions such as certification agreements) in one infographic. I wonder what kind of engineering magic the organizations included could come up with if they took all the income they're providing to attorneys and used it on R&D instead. online coupons codes

  44. StanAlarm Says:

    Looking at the graphic, it seems Apple is highly protective of its technology while Google is being very friendly to other companies. I know that come of the companies on the list are suing each other because of the camera technologies but I am not sure which ones are involved.

  45. career school Says:

    like one hugh technology war, why on earth are these huge corporations fighting over this. What good will it do nay of them.

  46. million dollar pips Says:

    Why doesn't thi story surprise me. The whole bunch of these corporations are lying and cheating their customers let alone each othermillion dollar pips

  47. Marty Says:

    Good job! Very informative post. I really love the rivalry of each Brand phones, because us consumers benefits from it! Best Mid-Range Digital SLR Cameras

  48. markus Says:

    I don`t believe that Samsung did something wrong…

  49. alem Says:

    hahaha… nice.. i like the image showing who is suing who…
    made me laugh…

    thank you.. Alem