Los Angeles – Apple’s iPhone 4 received considerable attention in 2010 when numerous customers complained that gripping the phone a certain way caused dropped calls. The problems stemmed from the iPhone’s external frame antenna, designed to improve signal strength. Unlike its predecessor, the iPhone 3GS, the iPhone 4′s un-insulated steel frame acts as the phone’s antenna. As iPhone 4 users touched the lower left edge of the phone’s exterior, the signal strength was reduced, leading to dropped calls in low reception areas.
This led to Apple issuing a widely criticized statement that consumers should avoid gripping the lower left corner of the phone when making a call. Organizations including Consumer Reports reported that placing a small amount of duct tape or masking tape on the lower left edge of the phone fixed the problem by preventing direct contact with the sensitive area. Apple was eventually forced to offer free cases designed to prevent contact with the exterior antenna to iPhone 4 users as it fixed the problem.
Apple’s latest iPhone, the iPhone 4S features a dual antenna feature, allowing the phone to alternate between two separate antennas based on signal strength. Apple insists that this new feature will prevent the dropped calls and reduced signal strength caused by the previous design flaw. However, the new design may infringe on a patent owned by Korean electronics giant, Samsung.
Danish inventor Gert Frolund Pedersen claims that the new iPhone 4S dual antenna design infringes upon a patent he developed and sold to Samsung. Pedersen’s patent claims a method for determining which of the dual antennas has a stronger signal. The patent utilizes the phone’s detection of whether the user is holding it in the portrait or landscape position and calculates which antenna will feature a stronger signal based on its position.
As the patent holder, Samsung has the exclusive rights to make, sell, or use the patent. Anyone wishing to utilize the technology claimed by the patent must negotiate a license with the patent holder or face a possible patent infringement lawsuit.
If a court holds that the new iPhone does indeed violate Samsung’s patent, it is likely that some sort of licensing agreement will be formed between Samsung and Apple. However, increasing litigation and competition between Samsung and Apple in the tablet and smartphone market call into question whether the two will be able to agree. Apple was awarded an injunction banning the sales of Samsung’s phones and tablets in the Netherlands and Germany. In addition, several other international cases are pending including cases in Australia and the U.S. In a future post we will analyze the claims as to whether the latest iPhone does indeed utilize technology claimed in the Samsung patent.