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Samsung agree cross-licensing deals with Google and Ericsson on patents

Out-Law News | 27 Jan 2014 | 4:15 pm | 2 min. read

South Korean device manufacturer giant Samsung and Google have agreed a new cross-licensing patent agreement, the companies have confirmed.

Precise details on the scope of the deal and of the precise technologies the patents cover have not been published, however the companies confirmed that the deal is global in nature, covers a "broad range of technologies and business areas" and takes account of existing patents the companies hold and those filed over the next decade.

"By working together on agreements like this, companies can reduce the potential for litigation and focus instead on innovation," Allen Lo, Google's deputy general counsel for patents, said.

The head of Samsung's intellectual property centre Seungho Ahn said that the company's agreement with Google is "highly significant for the technology industry".

"Samsung and Google are showing the rest of the industry that there is more to gain from cooperating than engaging in unnecessary patent disputes," he said.

Intellectual property (IP) law expert Indradeep Bhattacharya of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that Google and Samsung have been unofficially collaborating for a while and that the signed agreement "cements the commercial reality".

"For Google, formally linking up the largest Android device manufacturer and co-designer of the Nexus range will allow the company to have more control over how its content is implemented in end user products," Bhattacharya said. "Similarly, Samsung's success will increasingly depend on how its devices, or products, can deliver content; something that Google can obviously help with."

The expert also said that the agreement was consistent with Google's ongoing strategy of acquiring key IP assets in market segments it wants to enter into.

"Google’s growth over the last five years has been underpinned in many respects by striking these types of strategic partnerships rather than just rely on ground-up organic growth," Bhattacharya said. "Some have been critical of this strategy; I actually think this is sensible given its business model relies on bringing together different technologies across different industries."

Bhattacharya said that it was hard to predict whether the deal will calm or agitate the "patent wars" which have been ensuing between some of the largest technology companies in recent times. However, he predicted that Google would continue, in the short term at least, to face the threat of litigation from businesses over patents relating to the company's Android operating system.

Among the current cases Google is contesting is one in the US where the Rockstar group has claimed that it infringes seven patents. The Rockstar group is backed by a range of technology companies including Apple and Microsoft.

"If the Samsung-Google deal works out commercially – particularly if it heralds a wider content boom in Asia – it will make the process of litigation more difficult for rivals such as Apple and Microsoft," Bhattacharya said.

In a separate announcement, Ericsson, the Sweden-based telecoms company, announced that it has also reached an agreement with Samsung on the cross licensing of some standard-essential patents. The patents relate to technologies used to deliver 2G, 3G and 4G mobile internet connections.

The companies had been in dispute with one another over patents owned by Ericsson. Ericsson had sued Samsung for patent infringement after the South Korean company refused to sign a licensing agreement with it. Samsung had challenged whether Ericsson was making its patents available for licensing on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms. Ericsson confirmed that the companies' agreement signalled the end of the disputes between the companies.

"We are pleased that we could reach a mutually fair and reasonable agreement with Samsung," Ericsson's chief IP officer Kasim Alfalahi said in a statement. "We always viewed litigation as a last resort. This agreement allows us to continue to focus on bringing new technology to the global market and provides an incentive to other innovators to share their own ideas."

Ericsson said Samsung had made an initial payment of 4.2billion Swedish Krona, approximately £393m, in the fourth quarter of 2013 and that it had also agreed to pay ongoing royalties as part of the deal struck by the businesses.