A Hand from the Grave: Intellectual Property Analysis of Graphics Properties Holdings

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Thu, 04/12/2012

On March 27, 2012, Graphics Properties Holdings, the remnant of Silicon Graphics Inc., launched a patent infringement suit against Apple, HTC, LG, RIM, Samsung, and Sony. Despite its non-operating status and troll-like activities, Graphics Properties does hold a decent patent portfolio (read: it’s not perfect, but they do hold early priority to widely used display technologies). What does this mean to these defendants, half of which are already suing each other over patent infringement? Well, let’s just say a price-fixing investigation on e-books doesn’t hold an “e-candle” to the potential of halting production of ANYTHING with a digital screen.

Graphics Properties Holdings (“Graphics Properties”) is all that remains of early computer hardware manufacturer Silicon Graphics Inc. After Silicon Graphics declared bankruptcy and sold most of its assets for $25M to Rackable Systems in 2009, Rackable changed its name to Silicon Graphics International and what remained of the original Silicon Graphics was renamed to Graphics Properties Holdings.

To the uninformed, Graphics Properties seems to be going the route of most non-operating entities – well, who are we kidding, operating entities are doing this almost as frequently – and commercializing its patent portfolio via litigation. A list of this activity is to the right. Notice the most recent defendants have already been sued at least once before by Graphic Properties.

What makes this case different? Unlike patent “trolls” – oops, sorry, patent assertion entities as the Federal Trade Commission defines them – that assert vague “methodology” patents, Graphics Properties Holdings holds and asserts hardware related patents. Especially in, you guessed it, graphics display. And unlike most patent pooling entities that purchase portfolios for litigation or “protection offering” purposes, Graphics Properties was, at one time, an operating entity that made the products upon which it based its patents. Further, the fact that many of the Graphics Properties are, in fact, decent, early-priority graphics properties, makes us appreciate the patent portfolio all the more, in spite of the ways Graphics Properties is deciding to utilize these patents.

Nonetheless, what does all this mean for the defendants? Most of them are already in a multi-front patent war, mainly against each other, so isn’t this just another “drop in the bucket” when it comes to patent lawsuits?

Not quite. For example, that antitrust price-fixing investigation Apple is facing in relation to e-books could be nothing compared to halting production of every iPad that displays an e-book. Or, well, any Apple product with a pixel display.

Or any HTC product with a pixel display. Or any LG product with a pixel display.

Or any RIM, Samsung, Sony, Acer, ASUS, Panasonic, Sharp, Toshiba, Vizio, Motorola Mobility, Dell, Alienware, Lenovo, Gateway, HP or Nintendo product with a pixel display.

Get the picture?

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