Google’s Motorola unit sued in patent battle royal with Intellectual Ventures


An Android figurine sits on the welcome desk at Google Canada’s new office in downtown Toronto. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)Intellectual Ventures is set to square off this week against Google Inc.’s Motorola Mobility unit in the first trial that the multibillion-dollar patent-buying firm has undertaken since it was founded.

Privately-held Intellectual Ventures sued Motorola in 2011, claiming the mobile phone maker infringed patents covering a variety of smartphone-related technologies, including Google Play. Motorola has denied the allegations and will now go to trial over three of those patents.

Barring any last-minute settlements, jury selection is scheduled to begin on Tuesday at a federal court in Wilmington, Delaware.

The trial takes place amid an unfolding debate in Congress over patent reform, in which Intellectual Ventures and Google are on opposite sides. Google is backing attempts to curb software patents and make it easier to fight lawsuits, while IV has warned that Congress should not act too rashly to weaken patent owners’ rights.

IV and other patent aggregators have faced criticism from some in the technology industry, who argue that patent litigation and royalty payments have become a burdensome tax on innovation. They say firms like IV, which do not primarily make products, are exploiting the patent system.

But IV argues that unlike some of the firms denounced as “patent trolls,” it invests only in quality intellectual property and does not file frivolous lawsuits. IV also says it helps inventors get paid for their innovations while helping tech companies protect and manage their intellectual property.

Should the Delaware jury rule against Motorola and uphold IV’s patents, it could bolster the firm’s argument that it does not buy frivolous patents, said Shubha Ghosh, a University of Wisconsin Law School professor.

Yet a win for Motorola could be held up as evidence that the U.S. government issues too many dubious patents. And even if IV prevails, Google could still argue that patent litigation before a jury of non-expert citizens is akin to a lottery, said Ghosh, who supports patent reform.

“Just because you have a winning ticket doesn’t mean it’s not still a lottery,” he said.

IV and Google both declined to comment on the upcoming trial.

Since its founding in 2000, IV has raised about $6-billion (3.6 billion pounds) from investors and has bought tens of thousands of intellectual property assets from a variety of sources. Google was an investor in IV’s first patent acquisition fund, but did not join later vehicles.

IV filed a barrage of lawsuits in 2010 against companies in various sectors, and most defendants have since settled.

Two of the patents in the upcoming Motorola trial cover inventions by Richard Reisman, U.S. government records show. Through his company, Teleshuttle, Reisman has developed several patent portfolios for various technologies, including an online update service, according to the Teleshuttle website.

IV claims that the two Reisman patents cover several of Motorola’s older-generation cellphones that have Google Play, a platform for Android smartphone apps. Motorola argues that IV’s patents should never have been issued because the inventions were known in the field already.

Reisman did not respond to requests for comment.

One of the patents in play against Motorola has been in a courtroom before. Teleshuttle and a British partner, BTG, sued Microsoft and Apple in 2004 using one of the same patents now in play against Motorola.

In 2006, Teleshuttle and BTG sold their patent rights to Delaware-based Twintech EU LLC for $35-million up front, plus a percentage of future licensing fees, according to BTG’s website. At the same time as the sale, BTG and Teleshuttle abruptly withdrew their cases against Apple and Microsoft.

Microsoft and Apple were both early investors in Intellectual Ventures. IV often uses subsidiary companies to buy patents, and then transfer them at a later date to related corporate entities, though public records do not indicate whether IV had an ownership interest in Twintech.

IV took title on the patents from Twintech in September 2011 and sued Motorola a month later, U.S. records show. In a 2011 blog post, Reisman wrote that his deal with IV provided resources “to let me focus on my work as an inventor.”

Microsoft declined to comment while Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

Another patent being asserted against Motorola was originally issued to Rajendra Kumar in 2006. Kumar’s company, Khyber Technologies, transferred it to Balustare Processing NY LLC in July 2011, which passed it over to IV about a month later, patent records show.

Khyber Technologies was founded in 1991 with the goal of creating the next generation of handheld computing products, according to its website. The patent that IV obtained from Khyber covers detachable handset technology, which IV claims Motorola used in its defunct Lapdock product.

Kumar declined to comment on the IV lawsuit. If IV wins, damages will be decided at a later proceeding. The trial is expected to last about ten days. The case in U.S. District Court, District of Delaware is Intellectual Ventures I and Intellectual Ventures II, 11-908.

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Messaging Giant WhatsApp, Now With 430M Users, Has No Plans For Disappearing Photos

by  (@ingridlunden)

WhatsApp, an early mover in the messaging app space, has racked up 430 million active users to date. But despite the influx of new competition from the likes of Line, WeChat, KakaoTalk and Snapchat, WhatsApp says it will be sticking to its guns: avoiding advertising; staying away from “gimmicks” like disappearing photos and games; and continuing to request its users to keep paying to use the service as its basic business model.

The app, which used to be paid, is now free to download and costs $0.99/year to use after the first year.

The comments were made by co-founder and CEO Jan Koum, who was speaking at the DLD conference in Munich, Germany. “The important thing is focus,” he said, not disappearing photos — a reference to the ephemeral messaging service Snapchat.

Of WhatsApp’s 430 million users, some 30 million started using the app in the last couple of months (it only announced 400 million in December). WhatsApp now sees some 50 billion messages sent and received daily — rivalling SMS volumes.

“No ads, no games, no gimmicks,” Koum said today. It’s a credo that is written on a Post-It note from co-founder Brian Acton (who first worked with Koum at Yahoo). Koum keeps that note, which he got Acton to sign, on his desk as a reminder of where WhatsApp would like to remain anchored.

“We just want to focus on messaging. If people want to play games there are plenty of other sites and also a lot of great companies building services around advertising,” he added. It’s a “free market” with apps, so the beauty is that people can get those features elsewhere, Koum said.

Koum declined to talk about whether the company is profitable or any other financial metrics. “We make money, but the important thing [now] is not monetization,” he said simply. Someday the company will focus on it, but today the main aim is to to make sure WhatsApp has a service that works.”

We have heard reports of companies like Snapchat rebuffing acquisition overtures from the likes of Facebook and Google for $4 billion, and similarly Koum and WhatsApp remain bullish on staying independent to grow, as they have before when acquisition rumors surfaced.

“When we started the company we wanted to build something for the long term and sustainable,” he told interviewer David Rowan of Wired. “It’s not hard to sell a company, but if you look at [leading online] companies today like Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Twitter, they didn’t sell. They stuck around and built a great offering for users.” Koum acknowledged that these are all built on advertising, while WhatsApp is not, but the main idea remains: “For us it’s about [building] a company that is here to stay.”

Although WhatsApp is now pushing half a billion users, the company has remained very light and has tried to keep its startup mentality. The company currently employs 50 people, 25 of which are engineers, and another 20 that focus on multilingual customer support. “We’re extremely small,” Koum said. And its business model is pretty atypical. “We’ve always thought that advertising would be the wrong thing to do,” he said. By people giving us money, “we’ve always had a direct relationship” with users.

Koum’s upbringing in Soviet Ukraine, he says, has played a large part in how WhatsApp’s business model has developed. That extends from the no-ads policy and the ability to offer reliable and inexpensive communications, through to how the startup handles privacy.

On the subject of pricing, Koum recalled how, when he first moved to the U.S., it was expensive and difficult to phone family long distance, with the need to sign up to long distance phoning plans — a challenge for immigrants with limited resources. “With WhatsApp you don’t have to pay [exorbitant] fees,” he said.

The lack of advertising, meanwhile, is a throwback to his life before the U.S. Advertising, he said, is emblematic of the kind of information clutter that he did not know. ”I grew up in a country where advertising didn’t exist and I had a remarkable childhood,” he said. “Looking back it was an idealistic environment. Even though there were thousands of problems, the joy of growing up in an uncluttered lifestyle [meant] you could focus on other things.”

On the other hand, WhatsApp’s approach to privacy is a response in the opposite direction. “I remember my parents having no conversations on the phone. The walls had ears and you couldn’t speak freely,” Koum recalled. “It is extremely important [for us] to provide a level of security and privacy…. We don’t collect people’s personal information. We just know your phone number and those of the people you want to message with.” He said WhatsApp makes a point of knowing “as little as possible” about users.

Covering a wide range of topics, Koum also was upfront about his preference for Android as a platform over iOS. “Android is a lot more open. We are able to build new features and prototype faster on Android, not to mention that we have a lot more users on Android,” he said.

Longer term, it doesn’t look like WhatsApp plans to turn away from smartphones for its core experience any time soon. “Our goal is to be on every smartphone.” Quoting a projection of 5 billion total smartphones down the line, he said their goal is to be “on every single one of them.”

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Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is selling SIM cards for charity

By Russell Brandom

jimmy wales (flickr)

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is taking on a new endeavor, serving as chairman for a new UK-based wireless carrier called The People’s Operator. Operational since 2012, the carrier donates ten percent of every phone bill to a charity of the user’s choice, as well as setting aside a quarter of profits towards corporate-directed causes. The hope is that Wales’ skills at mobilizing online communities will help the service grow. “I get pitched a lot of things, and most of them are either very idealistic but don’t have a workable plan, or they have a workable plan but they’re not that interesting or inspirational,” Wales told The Verge. “This is the first thing I’ve seen that’s really inspirational but also has a perfectly sensible business model.”

The service is a virtual network, so all the coverage involved is leased from larger carriers like Orange and O2, but Wales thinks the bloated marketing budgets of most telecoms will give The People’s Operator an edge. “People are spending huge sums of money for customer acquisition and awareness,” Wales told The Verge. “If we can divert that marketing spend and say, instead of spending that money on TV commercials, we’re going to spend it on donating to good causes, and persuade our user base to spread the company’s offering through word of mouth, that’s a workable business model.” At the moment, TPO only operates within the UK, but plans to expand to other countries as its user base grows.

The designer of the Fitbit says wearable devices need to be “nearly sensual”

By Rachel Feltman

Gadi Amit wants to cover you in computers. NewDealDesign

For a wearable device to be successful, it needs to do much more than just work: It also has to look good on you. And not flashy-good—like Google Glass, which marks everyone wearing it as a loud-and-proud early adopter. The design must be able to fully integrate into our day-to-day lives. 

Increasingly, the task of marrying form and function falls to industrial designers like Gadi Amit. As principle designer and founder of the San Francisco-based NewDealDesign, Amit has helped create a number of wearables, including Whistle,InsulineSproutling, and Fitbit

There’s a “fitbit” for everyone these days. Whistle

Amit firmly believes that the design work he does on wearable devices is vital to their success. “These objects are the most personable, nearly sensual or intimate objects,” he told Quartz. “They pose so many complex questions about your personality and fit to your specific human body. It’s a very delicate balance of emotional next to rational thinking.”

He says his company has met the challenge of creating such a balance by shifting from traditional industrial design team to an even split with engineers. Now, instead of tweaking a design to make it ready for large-scale production and distribution, they often present clients with entirely new prototypes, streamlining everything from the aesthetic of the device to its electrical architecture. 

The Fitbit Force replaces a slim clip-on with a sleek wristband, because wearing wearables is finally cool. Fitbit

A challenging question for many of their clients, Amit says, is what can fit on the device itself. “How much user interface you really need on a wearable is a big, big topic,” Amit says. “And the answer is…sometimes more, sometimes less. It depends on the functionality, what’s going on between the interface of the device and the app it’s communicating with.” 

But once you want more user interface, there are architectural issues like screen size, and the battery size that comes with that size increase. Any object so small will present such a Catch-22, and Amit says that having a design team work on the device from start to finish can help keep the balance. This was never more true than with Sproutling, which has been called “the Fitbit for babies“ and will track the vital signs of quantified infants around the world sometime this year. 

Baby’s first wearable. Sproutling

Putting a device on your newborn’s wrist is much more intimate than strapping one to your own. “It’s very challenging,” Gadi says, “because the sensors are much more sophisticated and sensitive than a typical pedometer. Fitting those—or anything—into a baby size is very complicated. And then the device must not be too hard or too loose, as babies are always moving and have quite a lot of strength. People undervalue that, but they can very easily damage themselves or the product, and you have to find a balance that prevents both.”

But above all, the device needed to have a look that parents would feel comfortable introducing to their baby’s daily ensemble. “We wanted to project optimism, care, and emotion along with the sophistication of a well-designed product,” he says. “So we used a heart, attached to an ankle strap.” A strap, he says, that can be changed frequently to combat a baby’s frequent messes. 

“Wearables are just at the beginning of their success,” Amit says. And he plans to keep riding the wave.

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Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (SM-N900) KitKat update rolling out



The Android 4.4.2 KitKat update is now available for the Galaxy Note 3 (SM-N900). Currently the 4.4.2 update is only live in Russia, but should be rolling out across the globe over the comings days. As usual carrier banded devices will have to wait a little longer, or you could always flash the update yourself when it shows up. The Galaxy Note 3 SM-N9005, that’s the Snapdragon 800 CPU version, received the same Android 4.4.2 update last week.

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the new KitKat features, but for a quick recap here are some of the more Samsung specific ones:

  • The UI changes will be the most instantly noticeable differences. The update switches out the more traditional Touchwiz multi-colored look for the new clean white KitKat status bar icons. Although the toggles in the notification dropdown preserve the old green-themed style.
  • Samsung has made a few changes to the lock-screen, adding a camera shortcut directly on to the lock-screen for quick access. Album art also now shows up on the lockscreen in full screen when playing music.
  • The built-in Samsung keyboard layout has been improved for use in landscape mode, paying particular attention to improved gesture typing.
  • Performance has also been generally improved with KitKat. There’s is a decent looking increase in overall benchmark scores after the update.

As with all Samsung devices, updates can be downloaded and installed by connecting your Galaxy Note 3 to your computer and using Samsung’s Kies software. Alternatively, to manually check for an update over-the-air head on over to Settings > More > About Device > Software update > Update.


6 Travel Guide Apps To Help Plan Your Next Trip

These apps can help you choose your next killer vacation spot. Bon voyage!


Editor’s note: This post was originally published by our partners at PopSugar Tech.

It’s that wonderful time of year again — when you start planning one (or more) of those amazing trips you’ll take in the coming months. To help get you on your way, we’ve gathered six of the best travel guide apps out there.

They’ll all help you narrow down where to go and, once you’ve picked a killer spot, what to see and do. Oh, and they’re all free. Happy planning, and bon voyage!

AFAR Travel Guide App

The travel magazine AFAR just launched its newest travel guide app (free), which wants to help you plan a memorable trip. The app boasts many of the same features of its website, like Wanderlists (saved lists of places or experiences you’re pining over) and Guides (a map function that lets you browse the globe and get inspired by locations you wouldn’t have thought of), plus trip suggestions from local experts and editors. The great part is it gives you offline access, so you can still plan when you’re on the go.


Reliable suggestions from fellow travelers—that’s what you’ll get with Minube(free), which features more than 200,000 experiences from over 500,000 global travelers. Plus, you can share your own experiences by uploading photos and videos. Major points go to the Inspiration screen, which lets you find destinations by filtering by preferences like distance from home and number of travel days.

TripAdvisor Offline City Guides

If TripAdvisor is your go-to site for vacation planning, then you’ll love its Offline City Guides app (free). Just like you’d expect, it offers up curated itineraries and suggestions for landmarks, neighborhoods, restaurants, hotels, and more—and all that info gets stored on your phone after you initially check it out, so you can access it without racking up roaming charges.


What’s unique about Gogobot is that it gives you suggestions on where to go and what to see based on what type of traveler you are. Looking for something more active? Family-friendly? You’ll find it all here. Save the suggestions to an itinerary and pull them up when you’re out exploring, or search for new places to visit based on what’s nearby.

Viator Tours & Activities

Viator (free) is all about scoping out the budget-friendly scene. Plan your trip based on deals and discounts that are in your area of interest (hello, Skip the Line pass at the Eiffel Tower), and browse suggestions, photos, and videos to get a better idea of the locale. We’re talking more than 500,000 reviews from fellow travelers.


Billed as the travel guide for the whole world, Triposo (free) creates guides out of content from open sources like Wikitravel and World66. Like other apps on the list, you can download city or country guides and later use them offline while you’re on the go. You get overview maps for countries and detailed maps for big cities that include restaurant and nightlife suggestions.

Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock