Existing cell phone patents protect the inventors of mobile phones and related products, technologies, and designs against intellectual property rights infringement. As mobile phones are becoming increasingly sought after, mobile phone manufacturers and mobile app developers are in a heated race to come up with innovative products and technologies. By patenting their inventions, they will receive exclusive rights to produce, use, and sell their creations for a certain amount of time. However, the process of obtaining a cell phone patent can be daunting and complicated.

What Is a Patent?

A patent refers to a monopoly on an invention that is granted by the government. It is given to an inventor who applies for it at a relevant patent office. According to Patent Barista, patent applicants are required to show that their inventions are new and non-obvious. They must also describe their inventions in such a way that people in their industries will know how to use and make them. In order to be eligible for a patent, an invention must have the following characteristics:

  • Novel – A patent application may be disqualified if it shows a concept that has already been portrayed, either during or before the application.
  • Non-obvious – To be non-obvious, the invention must not be regarded by a person in the field in which it is filed as a direct extension of something that already exists at the time of filing. For example, a paint roller extension pole is “obvious,” but an innovative way of attaching the extension pole to the existing roller may be “non-obvious.” This is what an “inventive step” means.
  • Feasible – A patent will not be granted for a perpetual motion machine or a similar machine that, say, violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Although patents are all granted by patent offices, they protect different types of inventions and have different applications. When it comes to cell phones, there are basically four types of patents, including:

  • Functional patents
  • Software patents
  • “Standards essential” patents
  • “Trade dress” patents

Cell Phone Patent Infringement

Patent infringement occurs when someone else produces something that performs the same function and has the same features as something else that is already patented.

A good example of cell phone patent infringement is the iPhone's “slide to unlock” system, which has been awarded a patent in the U.S. and Europe. If you develop a smartphone interface that looks and functions exactly the same as the system, you may be sued for patent infringement. If you invent a touch interface with a line along which a ball can be slid to unlock the screen, you may also be infringing. This is why Motorola and HTC had to change their Android phones' interfaces. A court in Germany decided that their interfaces violated Apple's patent.

Cell Phone Inventors and Patents

Dr. Martin Cooper, who was a general manager for Motorola's systems division, is recognized as the person who invented the first modern portable handset. In April 1973, he made the first call on a cell phone to his rival Joel Engel, the head of research for Bell Laboratories. Bell Labs introduced cellular communications in 1947 by incorporating the technology into police cars. Nevertheless, Motorola became the first company to apply the technology to portable devices that were designed for use outside an automobile.

By 1977, Bell Labs and AT&T had developed a prototype cellular system. Public trials began a year later in Chicago with the participation of 2,000 customers. In a separate venture, the world's first commercial cellular telephone started operating in Tokyo in 1979. Two years later, Motorola and American Radio Telephone tested a cellular radio-telephone system for the second time in the Washington-Baltimore area.

It was not until 1982 that the slow-moving FCC authorized commercial cellular service in the U.S. One year later, Ameritech launched the Advanced Mobile Phone Service (AMPS), the nation's first commercial analog cellular service, in Chicago. Despite the immense demand, it took 37 years for cellular phone service to become commercially available in the U.S. The rapid increase in consumer demand quickly outstripped the system standards in 1982. By 1987, there were more than one million cellular telephone subscribers, resulting in crowded airways.

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