Mobile email seems to be an area rich in accusations of patent infringement and misappropriation of intellectual property.
Market leader Research In Motion acquired something of a reputation for its willingness to protect what it saw as its intellectual property, and now competitor Visto has added to its own allegations against Seven by filing a similar claim against Smartner.
The likes of Visto, Seven and Smartner offer push email software that can be installed on mobile phones and PDAs, as well as host servers.
True push email that doesn't require synchronisation with the PC or server email software is seen as a must have application for mobile operators, and the addressable market for those that supply the enabling technology is huge. It seems, however, that making money out of suing each other, or attracting a buyer, is an attractive business strategy too.
Visto said in a statement that Smartner is infringing five of its 22 patents, The patents in question, the company said, are patents which describe systems and methods for securely synchronising multiple copies of a workspace element in a network, and the use of a global translator to synchronise workspace elements across a network.Â
Daniel Mendez, vice president and CTO of Visto Corporation, said,Â "Smartner's attempt to misappropriate our industry-leading technology for their own gain hinders fair competition, inhibits true innovation, and ultimately creates confusion among customers and partners."
Smartner said it has not "been provided with an opportunity to refute the allegations prior to the complaint" but added that it denies any infringement of Visto's asserted patents. "Smartner sees no reason or merit in the allegations, and will defend vigorously its own innovation. Smartner highly respects the intellectual property of others and expects the same in return," it said.
The company accused Visto of running scared of its intention to enter the United States (Visto's home market). The European company also noted that Visto's motion for a preliminary injunction against Seven had been denied, although that case is still pending.
Smartner's ceo Paul Hedmand recently appeared put his company in the shop window by telling ComputerWire "Nokia should have bought RIM five years ago ... Now they regret they didn't. But they're now in a similar situation with Smartner now to what they were with RIM then ... It's now Nokia versus RIM. RIM should put in a bid on Smartner," he said.
A Smartner spokesperson said Hedman's comments had been misinterpreted. Hedman was merely attempting to emphasise the strength of Smartner's market threat to RIM, he claimed. In the same way that Nokia had underestimated Blackberry, Hedman had tried to explain, RIM could not not afford to ignore Smartner.
All the wireless email vendors can legitimately claim some success.
Meanwhile Blackberry continues to develop its own device portfolio as well as licence its software to other device manufacturers as Blackberry Built-in.
All of the vendors either claim to or in fact do support the major smartphone operating systems, and are beginning to push into the mass market. Operators and the handset manufactures appear to be keeping their operations open, but for the time being creating "confusion among customers and partners" does not seem to be the sole preserve of Smartner.