In a single stroke, Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL
) could gain the upper hand in its seemingly endless patent wars with Samsung Electronics
) and others.
Or the tech giant could blow its chance and wind up paying billions of dollars in licensing fees.
The outcome hinges on how Apple deals with a little-known company based in Sweden.
This micro-cap just happened to file a patent for the "swipe-to-unlock" touchscreen gesture in 2002 - three years before Apple filed its patent.
The company, Neonode (Nasdaq: NEON
), received its U.S. patent in January.
Neonode holds a number of touchscreen-related patents that could become decisive in several of Apple's mobile computing patent cases.
Already the "swipe-to-unlock" patent helped Samsung defeat Apple in a recent patent case in the Netherlands. Samsung said the patent, as well as a phone Neonode released in 2005, represented "prior art."
"Apple just shot itself in the foot and all the blood is going to go to NEON," Jim Altucher, managing director of Formula Capital and well-known investor, wrote in a blog post
Insiders told The Wall Street Journal
in April that Samsung plans to use the Neonode patent in a similar but much more crucial case in San Jose, CA, scheduled for a July trial.
And Altucher added a scarier prospect for Apple.
If Neonode does indeed hold the patent trump card for "swipe-to-unlock," it could gun for a cut of Apple's profits by filing its own patent case.
Should Apple be forced to fork over licensing fees to Neonode, it could cost the Cupertino, CA, company billions of dollars a year.
So far all this sounds like a big mess for AAPL and a big opportunity for its patent war rivals. Not just Samsung, but also for such titans as Google Inc. (Nasdaq: GOOG
) and Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT
Yet if Apple acts boldly, it could gain a crucial advantage on its mobile computing competitors.To continue reading, please click here...