Update: Openwave says Apple, RIM violate patents

The mobile software vendor wants the U.S. to block importation of Apple and RIM devices

Mobile software vendor Openwave Systems filed a complaint against Apple and RIM (Research In Motion) at the U.S. ITC (International Trade Commission) on Wednesday, saying the companies violated its patents and asking the agency to block importation of their products.

Openwave said Apple and RIM have infringed its patents with devices including Apple's iPhone and iPad models and RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook and Curve 9330. The companies violate patents on technology involving mobile email, app updates, cloud computing, information navigation and secure mobile connection with a server. Also on Wednesday, the company filed a similar complaint in the U.S. District Court in Delaware, according to an Openwave press release.

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Openwave said it tried to reach licensing agreements with Apple and RIM before taking legal action but did not receive a substantive response from them.

"We believe our legal position is strong and our prospects of prevailing are very good," Openwave CEO Ken Denman said in a written statement. It typically takes 15 to 18 months to receive a judgment from the ITC, he said.

Formed through the merger of Phone.com and Software.com in 2000, Openwave sells software to mobile operators for messaging, billing, and traffic analysis and management. The company says it holds more than 200 patents and was the first company to help carriers offer mobile Internet browsing and photo messaging, among other technologies. Its customers include Verizon Wireless, Deutsche Telekom, Sprint Nextel and Vodafone.

Apple and RIM did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Wednesday's actions were made possible by a settlement Openwave reached with mobile software vendor Myriad Group on Monday, which gave Openwave clear ownership of a set of patents, Denman said in an open letter to shareholders. Openwave paid Myriad $12 million in cash as part of that agreement. Myriad had bought certain products and patents from Openwave in 2008.

Pursuing Apple and RIM for alleged patent infringements is part of a larger plan to monetize Openwave's intellectual property and turn the company around, Denman told the shareholders. He called the company's inventions "a blueprint for today's mobile Internet" that dates back to the mid-1990s in companies that preceded the Openwave name. Denman said in the past decade, Openwave hadn't fully capitalized on the business potential of its legacy.

Openwave is focusing on the ITC action because of the prospect for a decision relatively soon, Denman said. The company thinks a favorable ruling from the ITC would lead Apple and RIM to agree to license the patents.

"We believe that these large companies should pay Openwave to use the technologies that we invented and that have become foundational to the mobile internet," Denman said.

The patents cited in the complaint represent important mobile data capabilities, according to Openwave. U.S. Patent No. 6,625,447 "provides the fundamental mechanism that allows both webpages and applications to communicate to a server wirelessly from a mobile device," by sending multiple pages of data at once instead of requiring a separate round trip for each page, the company said. Patent No. 6,233,608 covers a technique for making data available to both desktop and mobile devices through a network cloud.

Patent No. 6,289,212 allows mobile devices to perform some mail services even when disconnected from the mail server, according to Openwave. Patent No. 6,430,409 provides a way for a server and a mobile client to work together, using information both on the server and on the device. Finally, Patent No. 6,405,037 covers the technology that allowed mobile apps to be updated without inserting a new memory card into the device or re-burning the ROM (read-only memory) of the phone, the company said.

Legal activity is heating up in the mobile arena because smartphones are entering the mainstream and represent an even bigger profit opportunity, said analyst Daryl Schoolar of Current Analysis.

"This has been the summer of lawsuits," Schoolar said, noting litigation over LTE (Long Term Evolution), Google's alleged misuse of Java in Android, and other issues.

Ultimately, the legal climate could hurt consumers and businesses that use mobile devices, he said.

"You might see companies get to the point where they're much slower about doing innovation, much more cautious, because they're worried about lawsuits," Schoolar said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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