Patently speaking: Will Oracle vs. Google end with a whimper? Plus biotech and the Supreme Court ruling

We’re talking patents again. As usual, smartphones are front and center, but biotech also joins the fray.

Google‘s Android mobile operating system is facing patent challenges left and right. One fight that looked to be huge is the one against Oracle. Oracle jumped into the smartphone patent wars when it sued Google in 2010, saying Android infringes on its Java patents. Oracle estimated damages as high as $6 billion. But more than once, a judge said the Redwood City company’s estimates were too high.

Oracle and Google submitted new estimates this week. Get this: According to Groklaw, which has posted the statements each company filed Monday, Oracle’s latest estimate is even lower than that of Google’s. And each estimate is under $50 million. While the statements are filled with somewhat confusing calculations, the bottom line is that come April 16, when Oracle and Google are scheduled to go to trial, they’ll be talking about far less money. And according to a patent expert quoted by Brandon Bailey of the Mercury News earlier this month, the “narrowing of Oracle’s case” could mean the companies might even settle out of court. As of now, it’s looking like Oracle’s big patent play isn’t going to amount to much.

Another major fight involving Android, of course, is the one against Apple and its iOS — a battle Reuters says is moving to a critical phase in the United States and could eventually result in higher prices for consumers.

• Some biotech companies are worried about ill effects the day after the Supreme Court ruled that natural processes are not patentable, in a decision that invalidated the patent claims of Nestle-owned Prometheus Laboratories. Many reports say the decision, which involved a blood test to help doctors determine the dosage for a drug, could have big implications in the growing field of personalized medicine. According to the Wall Street Journal, thousands of diagnostic-test patents could be affected, and some companies in that industry are seeing their shares drop today. Silicon Valley companies in the genomics/personalized medicine industry include 23andMe, Navigenics, Pacific Biosciences and Affymetrix, although not all of them may deal with diagnostic tests.

How might the decision affect the rest of the tech industry? Timothy Lee of Ars Technica notes that although Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling, written by Justice Stephen Breyer, “focused heavily on a trio of software patents” from the 1970s and ’80s, it was so narrow that it fails to give guidance on the many software patent issues facing the tech world.



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