Patents can cover the smallest detail, such as the way icons are positioned on a smart phone’s screen. Companies can own intellectual-property rights to the finger swipes that allow you to switch between applications or scroll through displayed text.
Apple, for example, has patented the way an application expands to fill the screen when its icon is tapped. The maker of the iPhone sued Taiwan’s HTC Corp. because it makes Android phones that employ a similar visual gimmick.
The iPhone’s success triggered the patent showdown. Apple’s handset revolutionized the way people interact with phones and led to copycat attempts, most of which relied on the free Android software that Google introduced in 2008.
Android revolves around open-source coding that can be tweaked to suit the needs of different vendors. That flexibility and Android’s growing popularity have fueled the legal attacks. About 550,000 devices running the software are activated each day.
Many upstart manufacturers, like HTC, had only small patent portfolios of their own, leaving them vulnerable to Apple Inc. and Microsoft Corp.
Getting Motorola’s patents would allow Google to offer legal cover for HTC and dozens of other device makers, including Samsung Electronics Co., that depend on Android.
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