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Android Cellphones Handhelds Open Source Patents Your Rights Online

Why You Can't Build Your Own Smartphone: Patents 179

jfruh writes "In the mid-00s, more and more people started learning about Android, a Linux-based smartphone OS. Open source advocates in particular thought they could be seeing the mobile equivalent of Linux — something you could download, tinker with, and sell. Today, though, the Android market is dominated by Google and the usual suspects in the handset business. The reason nobody's been able to launch an Android empire from the garage is fairly straightforward: the average smartphone is covered by over 250,000 patents."
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Why You Can't Build Your Own Smartphone: Patents

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  • False (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Keruo ( 771880 ) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @08:03AM (#41941387)
    Patents won't touch you if you make 1-10 units.
    Other manufacturers won't consider you as worthwhile to legislate against since you most likely won't make any profit from those devices sold.
    From US point of view, good luck getting your device FCC approved, that'll be cheap and fun process!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 10, 2012 @08:05AM (#41941399)

    My only reply to these statistics is: Today more trivial patents are filled for then ever before.

  • by ryzvonusef ( 1151717 ) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @08:12AM (#41941417) Journal

    How many patents cover assembling a PC from parts, installing your own OS on it, and selling those? Anybody have a list or something? Genuinely curious.


    On a separate, possibly unrelated note, yet another of my silly dreams: right to access and tinker with the BIOS (or whatever the technical term is).

    I understand you might part with that right if you have the item subsidised, but after the contract ends, the root rights must flow back to you.

    Oh, and root rights should always be available on an unsubsidised device; the whole "warranty will be void" shtick doesn't fly with me. I mean on my PC, it would be void if I over-clocked it or whatever, not because I installed Linux instead of windows; similarly, warranty should not be voided simply because you change a ROM, only if you use an over-clocking app.

    (Do correct me if I am wrong in my rant)

  • Re:Hard (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ChunderDownunder ( 709234 ) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @09:24AM (#41941649)

    Well a Spanish startup, Geeksphone, did so with 2 models.

    They probably would have succeeded, except their country is now in economic meltdown.

    So it *is* possible but not given the current financial climate that has seen Palm disappear and RIM and Nokia in a death spiral.

  • Re:False (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dkf ( 304284 ) <> on Saturday November 10, 2012 @09:41AM (#41941755) Homepage

    Nonsense. Patents apply to everybody. There's no exception for people who "only" make 1-10 units. Patents literally forbid you to tinker in your own home and then sell the item you just invented, if someone paid a fee and lodged a vague sounding description about something roughly similar already.

    But the reality is that if someone only makes 1-10 units then the patent holder is exceptionally unlikely to even notice. Moreover, the cost of litigating would make the likely gain for the patent holder really miniscule.

    The big barriers are that it isn't easy to do a good job of manufacturing a mobile phone without a lot of very specialized (and expensive) equipment, and that there are a lot of high-quality competitor devices out there. Chip manufacturing is not a backyard activity, and custom ICs (particularly ARM SoC) are completely the key to economic phone manufacturing. The real market barriers are damn high. (There are also legal and regulatory issues, but they don't explain why there are no such tinkerers anywhere.)

  • by alexgieg ( 948359 ) <> on Saturday November 10, 2012 @10:37AM (#41942073) Homepage

    Method 1: Once you have an idea, do a thorough patent search and verify your idea does not appear to violate any patents. If it does, re-design the widget so it avoids the patent.

    This highlights the problem with the obviousness criteria as used by the patent office. If you have an idea of your own and then have to search to be sure someone else didn't have that same idea to then workaround it, its clear that idea is obvious. If it weren't obvious, you, as a skilled practitioner of your profession, wouldn't be able to simply think of it out of nowhere, you'd have to read the patent to actually figure out how that invention works, or otherwise go do some serious research.

    The patent system wouldn't be the insensate thing it is today if the obviousness criteria was focused on actual obviousness. A legal recourse against an obvious patent should be something very fast and very cheap, something akin to a judge ordering 10 random engineers in the field to read the patent under dispute in the morning, asking them whether it was obvious in the afternoon, and 7 of then replying "yes", presto, patent invalidated. Alas, it ain't so...

  • A bridge too far (Score:5, Interesting)

    by goodmanj ( 234846 ) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @10:40AM (#41942085)

    Oh, come on. The "patent system is screwed up" argument started with software and algorithms, and continued with patents on DNA and organisms. And yeah, in those cases it was pretty clear the patent system wasn't working as intended. I'm with you on that one. But now here at Slashdot we're upset that ingenious physical devices, devices that took years of work to design and whose operation is by no means obvious, should not be patented.

    There can be no question that something like a SAW filter is a new, non-obvious, useful device. So at this point, you're arguing that patents should not exist at all. And I won't follow you there.

    You really have no idea how much brainpower went into designing the individual components within a cell phone. An iPhone is a miracle the first time you see one, then it's a handy tool, and then your familiarity makes it seem blindingly obvious. But tens of thousands of people spent billions of person-hours figuring out how to build the thousands of unique devices inside. And I think those people should receive some reward for their efforts.

  • Re:False (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pruss ( 246395 ) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @02:03PM (#41943655) Homepage

    But the reality is that if someone only makes 1-10 units then the patent holder is exceptionally unlikely to even notice.

    That one can get away with breaking a law isn't an excuse for doing so.

    There was a time when I wanted to use an open source MPEG-4 player on our PalmOS devices at home. I actually got a patent license from MPEG LA, since there are no fees for under 100,000 units or so. I expressly told them that I'd just be doing this for personal use. They sent me the license agreements overnight. Twice a year, I've had had to report the number of units, so I duly reported one per installed build, each time I installed a build. I don't think they realized how absurdly costly this was for them. Too bad for them: I kind of hoped they'd say that with such a small number of units, they're fine with me doing it without a license.

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