We've always assumed that the worldwide patent battles between Apple and Android smartphone manufacturers would end in a tidal wave of settlements, and it appears the first trickles of hope are leaking out: Dow Jones is reporting that Apple's proposed settlements with both Samsung and Motorola in exchange for license royalties on its patents. It's not the first time Cupertino's proposed a settlement in its smartphone patent litigation: Apple famously settled its patent lawsuit with Nokia by agreeing to pay an estimated €430m in licensing fees and cross-licensing some patents, and the company held failed negotiations with Samsung in November 2010 that also included a potential patent licensing deal.
According to Dow Jones, Apple's asking for something between 1 and 2.5 percent of the net handset price for its patents, or around $5 and $15 per device — along the lines of what Microsoft has been getting from Android manufacturers. That just about matches what Motorola's been asking for as well, but the difference is that Apple's patents aren't essential to wireless standards; both Motorola and Samsung have been drawing international regulatory scrutiny for their excessive demands on standards-essential patents.
So why re-open settlement talks now? Both sides are quickly burning through their opening moves, as courts around the world rule on motions to block sales, and several of the pending cases are quickly reaching the stage where each side's patents may be judged on the merits. That's dangerous territory — better to strike a deal and walk away then have a court rule any patents invalid and take away leverage for future lawsuits. We'd also assume that Google's pending acquisition of Motorola is having an impact: Google's made no secret of its desire to aggressively assert Moto's patent portfolio, and things will get pretty messy once Apple and Google square up directly. We'll see how this all plays out — things are either about to get much better or much, much worse.