How Will Smart Devices Impact IP Litigation?
Big companies have been filing patent applications on smart devices for many years. While it is unlikely that old patents can be stretched to cover smart devices, many companies have been exploring the smart device / IoT landscape for many years. While consumer devices are (for the most part) still in their infancy, it is not far-fetched to imagine smart devices in every aspect of our lives within the next 5-10 years. That means whoever is controlling the patent landscape will have lots of IP.
While it is possible that individuals and startups may have been filing on these types of ideas for the past few years, this is one area where it is much more likely that big companies that have access to expensive hardware are the most prolific patent filers. Unlike a typical software patent, a smart device patent would necessarily require hardward disclosures. That would mean that a company already has R&D associated with hardware, and that typically means mature companies.
Thus, this recent article explaining that Google and Amazon are amongst the leading filers for smart device patents is likely only the beginning of the dominance of the smart device IP landscape by mature companies.
What should a company in this space do?
- Ensure that the company has patent licenses or have conducting a freedom to operate opinion(s), because it is likely that any type of mature device already has filings associated with it (e.g., a washing machine)
- If the company is doing a joint venture or collaboration, do a deep dive into the portfolio of the partner because the patents may not overlap into this new way of connecting devices
- Study the patent landscape. NPEs will be looking to broadly sue over various ways of using the Internet to connect devices, since there will be so many patents issued in the early 2000s that are related to connecting devices across networks, servers, etc. and will be expiring soon
If you’re a startup in this space, it would be wise to consider who are potential acquirers and what they are already doing in the space. Don’t assume because they are in traditional industries that they have not been working in this space already because this is a key area for any device maker.