Feature: Owning the stack: The legal war to control the smartphone platform
[Via Ars Technica]
In the last few weeks, the smartphone industry appeared to produce more lawsuits than phones. Apple briefly managed to stop the sale of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 in all of Europe, and is now going after the whole Galaxy line. Back Stateside, Google first complained that Microsoft and Apple were using “bogus patents” to target Android, then spent $12 billion for Motorola and its patent arsenal. These are big, high-stakes fights—and the last company left standing may walk away with control over nothing less than the smartphone market itself.
In the flood of stories about tactical filings and counter-filings, it’s easy to get lost in the details. But step back and it’s clear that the Smartphone Wars aren’t just a war of all against all; there’s an underlying logic to these disputes. Most companies are fighting to control one part of the hardware-software stack, then use that control to pry money free from the layers above them.
But the really big players—the Apples and Googles of the world—are fighting over the stack itself. Their combat arena: the global legal system.
Here is their picture of the stack:
At the top are the apps, followed by the OS, followed by the hardware, followed by the network at the bottom. There are conflicts at each level – horizontal – and there are conflicts between each level (vertical).
Only a few companies are active at all levels – Apple and Google being the most successful. Their goal is to own all the levels, or at least be major players in each level. As in the Tour de France, they want the Gold jersey for overall leader, even if someone else is the sprints champion.
It’ll be interesting to see how al these suits play out, especially since there is a great chance of conflicting and contradictory decisions from al the different jurisdictions.
But the overall result will go a long way to defining just what 21st century companies will be like.