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In-house counsel should be aware of patent disputes

Posted by: Laurence Simons 10/12/12

A number of high-profile patent disputes on both sides of the Atlantic have underlined the importance of staying on top of changing applicable electronics standards for those with in-house legal jobs, as the booming technology industry continues to see big companies stake out their claims and try to maximise their profits.

For instance, Google's Motorola unit's attempt to ban the sale of Microsoft's Xbox 360 games console in the US and Germany has made the news this month, with Judge James Robart dismissing the multinational firm's efforts.

While old-fashioned lawyers may wonder at the degree of importance being attached to this case, possibly considering games consoles to be slightly less engaging than a ball tied to a cup by a length of string, the reality is that devices like the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 have made gaming a huge entertainment industry worth billions of dollars.

To summarise the case, Motorola is claiming its rival should pay up to $4 billion (£2.5 billion) annually for the use of its connectivity and video-coding patents, which Microsoft thinks are only worth around $1 billion a year.

In what has become an increasingly bad-tempered snafu, the two technology giants have traded blows in the courtroom after a German court gave Motorola right to remove Microsoft's Xbox console and Windows 7 software from retailers - a ruling it has been unable to uphold after Judge Roberts' statement.

The current case will now continue to decide what would be a fair licence rate for the patents involved, a decision that could act as a precedent for other similar disputes.

All this legal manoeuvring just underlines the fact that computer games are no longer the preserve of maladjusted teenagers or idle students but a major part of the retail and entertainment landscape.

Call of Duty: Black Ops II from Activision Blizzard recently crossed the $1 billion mark in global sales just 15 days after its release, making it the quickest-selling game of all time.

Chief executive officer Bobby Kotick said: "The release of Call of Duty has been one of the most significant entertainment events of each of the last six years."

In October, the legal landscape for computer gaming also changed after developers Spry Fox brought forward a case against rival company 6waves Lolapps for publishing an extremely similar game to their own.

Western District Court judge Richard Jones allowed the move to go ahead - potentially opening the way for more cases on gaming as the lucrative market continues to expand.

While lawyers probably don't need to buy a joystick, a family-sized bag of Doritos and the latest copy of Gran Turismo, these developments do suggest they should keep abreast of developments in one of the world's fastest-growing industries.