Up until now, Amazon has done a fairly good job of avoiding patent lawsuits. Sure, they’ve run into a few over search technology and such, but overall they’ve been small and unsuccessful. With the release of the Kindle Fire, though, they may have entered into the murky world of mobile computing litigation. What this means for the future of the company’s hardware development line remains to be seen, but there are a few things that we can be quite sure of over the next several months. One of these is that Amazon will rise to the challenge.
In 2011 alone already Amazon has been hit with 11 lawsuits over 30 alleged patent infringements, two of which have been dismissed completely. The majority of them have been in relation to the technology being put in place to pave the way for the launch of the Kindle Fire. This includes cloud computing (admittedly even more useful in other areas, but vital for things like the Kindle Fire’s Silk web browser), streaming services, site personalization, and a number of things that relate to other Kindles as well. Last year, they didn’t face a third so much attention over patents.
As the 15th of Nov. rolls around, whole new areas of vulnerability open up. Android has thus far been a highly disputed OS. Apple has been particularly active in using legal tactics to beat down any potentially successful competing tablets, both in the US and abroad, but they are not the only ones. Microsoft has managed to convince Samsung to pay royalties over supposed Android related patents, for example, though MS has not as yet brought any major action against the source. It’s possible that Google is too big to attack at the moment? That says nothing of the increasingly common “patent troll” crowd that exists for no reason other than to acquire intellectual property and make money suing people over it. The mobile device market is their favorite playground.
While there is a great deal of criticism of the patent system floating about at the moment, chances are good that any reform of that system is a long way off. For the time being this is the environment we are stuck with no matter how much it would seem doomed to stifle any form of innovation in technology.
We’ll see where things go in the next year. Some have predicted Amazon acquiring HP’s WebOS and the associated intellectual properties as a way to bolster their position in the event of extended legal battles. Google made a similar move in acquiring Motorola’s mobile division, so there’s certainly precedent for such a move. Whether or not that happens, though, Amazon has expressed an intent to defend themselves against all comers. This could be enough to scare off potential complaints. Nobody interested in repeating lawsuits for income wants such a high profile case setting precedent against them. The Kindle Fire isn’t likely to be blocked as easily as some other tablets and cell phones have been before now.