Apple and WiLAN to resolve patent dispute?

Apple stock

New headlines today show Apple embroiled in a new patent violation conflict with a company that designs wireless systems.

The company, called WiLAN,  apparently engages in these kinds of patent activities as part of its business model.

“WiLAN offers a turn-key solution to owners of valuable patents who seek a reasonable return on their R&D investment,” write spokespersons. “WiLAN implements the licensing program on your behalf,  providing all the financial resources and technical expertise necessary.  We engage with potential licensees on behalf of our partners, so partners can focus on their business, and let us manage their patents.”

Advocates of that company’s business are claiming that Apple is infringing on patented bandwidth allocation technology.

“Apple sued Quarterhill Inc’s WiLAN in 2014 and sought a ruling that it did not infringe patents related to allocating bandwidth in a wireless network,” writes Akash Sriram for Reuters. “WiLAN claimed that iPhone 5 and 6 models infringed its patents by using the LTE wireless standard.”

This isn’t like the controversy generated a few years ago, when Apple was on the other side of the table trying to patent the rectangle.

“Design rights protect ornamentation, not functionality,” wrote Ed Black at Forbes at the time. “This is why Apple is in the perverse position of arguing that design elements which make good smartphones so useful are not functional at all, and merely decorative ornamentation: if it admitted these features were actually useful, it would forfeit its design protection.”

Now, in this new case where Apple was originally the target, a court will have to decide whether Apple’s use of a wireless model is too similar to technology owned by WiLAN.

Patent activity is part of how these tech companies fare as they rule on new products and services.

However, there’s also the phenomenon people call ‘patent trolling’ when patent protections seem to become excessive.

What do you think of Apple’s track record with patent protection? Factor it into your investment strategy.