Apple patent war
In a single stroke, Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) could gain the upper hand in its seemingly endless patent wars with Samsung Electronics (PINK: SSNLF) 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 Tuesday evening.
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.
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Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) Patent War with Samsung A Fight No One Wins
Like two mighty monsters in a 1950s sci-fi B-movie, Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) and Samsung Electronics Co. (PINK: SSNLF) have locked horns for over a year in an epic patent war neither can win.
Over the past year, the two tech titans have filed dozens of patent infringement lawsuits against each other in 10 countries. Most seek to block the sale of one or more of the other's smartphone and tablet products.
The biggest case, filed in San Jose, CA, is scheduled for a July trial, which U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh is desperate to avoid. (She called the case "cruel and unusual punishment" for the jury.)
Earlier this week Koh ordered the CEOs of both Apple and Samsung to meet in mediation sessions, but nothing came of the meetings.
The mutual stubbornness makes sense when you realize what's at stake.
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