Smartphone patent lawsuits' impact will trickle down to developers

Sue marek

Mobile developers are certainly not immune to the ramifications of all the ongoing patent disputes that are plaguing the wireless industry. All the top smartphone makers, mobile operating system platforms and chip makers are currently involved in some form of patent litigation. In fact, Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) recently released the below chart to FierceWireless, which cleverly maps out all the pending patent lawsuits.

Click here for a bigger version of this chart.

What is the message behind this infographic? For developers, this chart should send a warning call about the future of the platforms and devices they are developing for. Although developers aren't the target for these patent battles, they are impacted by the outcome. In fact, one ramification of these patent lawsuits is that they could make developers think twice before they develop apps for certain platforms and devices.

Developers want to develop their applications and services for platforms that have the most growth potential. "Developers want volume," said Iain Gillott, founder of iGR Research. "They want to develop one time for many devices. They want audience and the ability to scale and a very stable platform."

Is any platform safe from patent litigation? Not really, said Gillott. However, some of the platforms with the fewest patent suits, such as Research in Motion's (NASDAQ:RIMM) BlackBerry, also have a smaller reach among consumers, which isn't necessary a goal for many developers.

So what should developers do? Probably the best thing, Gillott said, is to develop applications across multiple devices and platforms in order to obtain the most possible options. Of course, that advice isn't always doable, particularly for small developer shops that can't afford to expand to multiple platforms--at least not right away.

But Verizon's infographic should serve as a wakeup call to developers who might not be following these patent disputes as closely as they should. This much litigation isn't likely to be resolved any time soon. --Sue