Why tech patents have become an arms race

It is only three months into 2010 and already we are surrounded by patent infringement cases. But why has the number of suits shot up in recent times?

It seems that not a week goes by without one tech company or another launching a patent infringement case.

From the big guns arguing over who designed the leading tech first, to the little start-ups trying to prove those industry leaders stole their ideas, it is becoming a legal soap opera in the world of innovation.

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But has the number of infringement cases risen in recent times or is this just the way the industry works?

We take a look at the top cases of the moment to see who has the most to gain from the ongoing legal tussles.

Taking a bite of out Apple

Apple is currently involved in two very high profile cases within the mobile industry, as competitors clamour over who came up with a long list of technologies and who they now belong to.

Nokia filed a suit against Apple back in October last year, claiming the firm needed to pay up for using its patented technologies. Then, in December, the leading handset manufacturer filed another suit to the US International Trade Commission (ITC) claiming Apple had infringed seven patents used on "virtually all of its mobile phones, portable music players, and computers."

Apple responded to the complaints by filing its own suit in January, however, in March a judge in Delaware froze the mudslinging case to allow the courts to catch up with all the filings it was dealing with.

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This wouldn't keep Apple out of the headlines though. The company had got a bee in its bonnet and decided to sue competitor HTC for allegedly infringing 20 of its patents relating to "the iPhone's user interface, underlying architecture and hardware."

Add to that the cases with Kodak, which is suing both Apple and RIM for camera patent infringements, and Emblaze, claiming it and Microsoft have infringed media streaming technology patents, and Apple's lawyers are going to be run off their feet over the next few months.

I'm a PC patent

It is not just Apple that has come under scrutiny, with rival Microsoft also being pulled into court.

Microsoft alongside Apple is being accused by a small Israeli company, Emblaze, for infringing its media streaming patents.

However, the beginning of this year has not just seen the start of cases against Microsoft but the final conclusion - and pay outs.

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