While many can tell the difference between Sky TV services and Microsoft’s SkyDrive cloud storage, that’s not necessarily true for everyone. A British court certainly thinks there’s room for confusion: it has ruled that SkyDrive infringes BSkyB’s trademarks on the Sky name in both the UK and the European Union. The presiding judge didn’t believe that Microsoft’s use of the “sky” prefix was absolutely necessary, and she showed evidence that at least some of the general public didn’t understand which company made what. Microsoft says it plans to appeal the verdict, although there’s no guarantee that it will have to relabel SkyDrive if the appeal falls through. Some past trademark lawsuits have led to fines instead of name changes, and we suspect Microsoft would rather pay out than lose brand recognition across a whole continent.
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Hardware is so hot right now. So hot, in fact, that another European hardware startup is formulating an attack on the smartphone hardware space — joining the likes of Finland’s Jolla and Spain’s Geeksphone to have a go at handset making. The newest comer stepping in with a plan to shake up the “status quo” is called Kazam: a startup co-founded by a pair of former U.K. HTC execs, Michael Coombes and James Atkins.
Coombes, who spent just over a year and a half as a U.K. head of sales for HTC, according to his LinkedIn, is Kazam’s CEO. Prior to HTC he apparently worked for mobile and telecoms companies including Nokia and Vodafone. While Atkins, Kazam’s CMO, spent just over a year as HTC’s head of marketing for U.K./Ireland, and has previously worked in U.K. marketing roles for freesat, LG and Panasonic. The pair’s professional network is clearly tied tightly to the local market, hence, presumably, Kazam’s focus on Europe first.
“Kazam will focus on Europe at the outset,” Atkins tells TechCrunch via email, adding with some typical marketingspeak embellishment: “We are currently establishing a network of regional sales and marketing offices to ensure we deliver outstanding products and customer service.” The startup has a U.K. base in Mayfair, London.
Details of how exactly Kazam plans to assault the Samsung and Apple smartphone duopoly were not forthcoming when I asked. Atkins declined to answer the bulk of my questions — including such specifics as whether Kazam’s planned smartphones will run Android and be skinned with a custom UI or keep the experience familiarly stock. Instead, he trotted out a repeated PR mantra: “Today we are just announcing that the Kazam brand is here, for the rest you will have to wait and see.”
It’s notable that this startup has already engaged a PR company (Noire) — and talks about creating a mobile brand — even before having a great deal to talk about. Which does serve to underline how smartphones have become a game of who can shout the loudest. A game of brash tones (as I have previously described it).
What did Atkins say? Not a whole lot. He declined to reveal how much funding Kazam is backed by at this point, or whether it is currently looking to raise a round. He did at least confirm it has backers, and that those backers have links into Asian mobile manufacturing companies — which suggests it’s following Jolla’s manufacturing playbook.
“Kazam Mobile has been set up by a group of private equity investors, who have previously launched and operated successful mobile telecommunications companies and technology businesses. Some of their current investments include NF Technology Limited, an R&D company specialising in developing and customising mobile phone devices and tablets and Nichefinder (S’pore) PTE Limited, a proven technology procurement and supply company,” he told TechCrunch.
He also confirmed Kazam’s plan is to launch “a range of smartphones at different prices point/specs” later this year. Asked whether it will look at other types of mobile devices, such as tablets, he said only that its initial focus is on smartphones. He added that he and Coombes left their roles at HTC earlier this year “with the desire to build a new brand that really stands out in the mobile space”.
He also declined to be drawn on the differentiation question but in Kazam’s inaugural press release today Coombes said: “We believe your smartphone is a digital reflection of who you are, and since we are all different, it’s important that we don’t adopt a one size fits all approach. Kazam’s dynamic structure and focus on local markets means we can react quickly to the ever evolving and diverging needs of today’s consumer. We aim to provide quality smartphones that are accessible to everyone.”
The release also includes a statement from Atkins hinting that aftersales service might be how Kazam attempts to stand out in a crowded market: “There is a real opportunity for a new mobile brand to disrupt the status quo. We are passionate about delivering a truly positive mobile experience that doesn’t just stop once you’ve bought the phone. Kazam is about stunning design, robust hardware and intuitive technology, underpinned by outstanding customer service.”
Further details about exactly what kind of customer service opportunity Kazam reckons it has identified were not forthcoming.
The size of Kazam’s team at this point is just Atkins and Coombes — a few more if you count the hired help from their external PR company. But Atkins also said the startup has already “established an R&D centre”. Hopefully with some staff in it, but presumably no permanent headcount yet.
Should Kazam get off the ground with its grand status quo shaking plan it will need to significantly boost its body count — if only to staff the network of regional sales and marketing offices it is currently establishing. It will also need to make decent smartphone hardware — hardware that’s worth shouting about. Whether it will be able to deliver that is clearly something to file under “wait and see”.
Asked how a startup with inevitably bounded resources can succeed in such a fiercely competitive space — when veteran players such as HTC are having such a tough time standing out despite making cracking handsets like the HTC One — Atkins’ said only: “The mobile market whilst competitive, seems to have stagnated.”
Stagnation is one word for it. Saturation is another. Smartphone hardware and software has achieved a very high quality bar, with Android OEMs like Samsung pushing high-end features lower and lower down the price-point range to pull up the capabilities of mid- and even budget handsets. This has resulted in a surfeit of great phones, across a very broad spectrum of price-points. Which means precious little room for anyone new to elbow in. Or stand out.
So there are huge question marks over any startup entering such a fiercely competitive space, especially with so many better resourced former mobile giants continuing to struggle. Disruption often starts small but in a market so beholden to carriers, where the bulk of phones sales occur, it’s especially hard for an upstart to get traction. Carriers tend to be risk averse and have established distribution partnerships and (incentivised) relationships with the smartphone giants so have disincentives to push anything too new. Going it alone with online retail distribution is the alternative, but that route requires a sizeable marketing budget to even get noticed.
Creating handsets for an underserved niche may be one way to carve out a business, as Geeksphone has been. Securing carrier distribution agreements to carry your hardware is another strategy, as Jolla has with Finland’s DNA. For now, it’s unclear whether Kazam has any similar moves up its sleeve, but it will certainly be hoping it has enough local telco connections — and financial backing — to give it a regional chance of inching in. To say it has its work cut out to make any kind of impact is an understatement.
As it has countless times in the last decade, Microsoft once again finds itself at a crossroads.
Over the course of thirty-plus years, Microsoft rose to global dominance on the back of the desktop computer. But in the last decade, PC sales have been slowing as mobile devices become the next paradigm in personal computing. This presents some serious challenges for the folks in Redmond; the problems are bigger than just finding ways to win with smartphones and tablets. The traditional method of selling boxed software or licenses to hardware manufacturers and big businesses is changing.
Apple’s landmark $ 1 billion damages award over Samsung has been partially vacated by presiding judge Lucy Koh, FOSS Patents reports. The judge has orders just north of $ 450 million be struck from the $ 1 billion total, an amount which relates to 14 Samsung products involved in the case, pending a new trial to determine appropriate damages for those specific devices.
Koh said that a new trial has to be held to determine damages on those products, which include the AT&T Galaxy SII, the Galaxy Tab, Nexus 4G and others, based on the fact that the court isn’t able to make adjustments to the amounts owing based on infringement by those products for legal reasons. In the second trial, which will be decided by an entirely new jury, Apple could wind up being awarded more or less in damages based on their evaluation of the per-product cost of infringement for that group of Android smartphones and tablets.
Apple is still entitled to an award of $ 598,908,892 from the part of the damages decision that Koh has determined should stand, though FOSS Patents suggests that no actual money will change hands until the result of this new, second trial is decided. Apple will also be able to exercise its option to pursue additional damages based on post-judgement royalties, and pre-judgement interest, pending the new jury’s decision.
HP has made it clear it has some ambitious aspirations, and at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference today, CEO Meg Whitman gave some insight on how the company is hoping to achieve those goals. Unsurprisingly, a large part of its approach is to address the company’s former failures in mobile. “What happened is the market moved very fast to tablets and smartphones and now we’ve got to manage that transition,” she said, noting that her predecessors did to try to address the shift by buying Palm. “But as you know, under the previous administration that took a little detour to nowhere.”
As a result, HP has expanded the way it thinks about its computing business. “We now have the opportunity to compete in a…
In another face of the ever turning world of patent battles, Reuters reports Microsoft has snagged a victory over Motorola as the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in its favor today. Motorola had obtained an injunction in Germany against Microsoft products — including the Xbox 360 and Windows 7 — based on its h.264 patents back in May, but today the court upheld a previous decision putting enforcement on hold because of Microsoft’s existing lawsuit against Moto for breach of contract. Microsoft’s push to leverage its patents into licensing payouts from manufacturers of Android devices have seen the two at each other’s throats since at least 2010, when the folks from Redmond lodged an ITC complaint over nine patents and followed up with another suit accusing Motorola of charging unfair license fees for its patents. Motorola fired back with its own pair of lawsuits — all of this a year before we heard it would be acquired by Google — and the battle was on. Whether or not this moves us any closer to any resolution remains to be seen, but at least Bavarian gaming consoles are safe, for now.
In a court filing late Friday night Apple has requested the court enhance the $ 1.05 billion in damages a jury awarded it from Samsung for their patent lawsuit in California. FOSS Patents’ Florian Mueller has a breakdown of the figures, revealing that Apple has chosen to seek enhancement just on what the jury deemed “willful” patent infringement to the tune of $ 135 million (less than the 3x amount it could have pursued) plus an additional $ 400 million for infringement of trade dress. That adds up to $ 1,756,455,218 it’s now seeking from Samsung, plus, as Reuters reporter Dan Levine notes, the expected request for permanent injunctions. That could cover more than the products mentioned in the lawsuit, as Mueller also points out Apple is asking for an injunction against other products with similar features, which could extend to devices like the Galaxy S III. As usual, it’s all still far from over and the figures could change, but Samsung is probably just hoping Apple’s lawyers use iOS 6 Maps for their next trip to the courtroom.
Update: Per FOSS Patents, adding in interest and supplemental damages Apple’s total request is now a tidy $ 707 million.
We hope you didn’t think that Motorola would fight a purely defensive patent war against Apple after Google’s acquisition closed. Just days before a final ruling on its initial complaints, the RAZR maker has filed another dispute with the International Trade Commission that accuses Apple of violating patents through some iOS devices and Macs. Exact details of the dispute are under wraps for now; Motorola, as you’d imagine, only contends that it has no choice after Apple’s “unwillingness to work out a license.” While Apple hasn’t said anything about the subject, we already know how much it disagrees with Motorola’s previous licensing strategy — it’s unlikely Apple will just roll over, no matter what’s at stake.
Samsung may have convinced Judge Koh to toss a few international handsets out of Apple’s lawsuit, but the Korean firm still has Cupertino’s patent licensing accusations to contend with. Their tactic? Convince the court that Apple’s claim to the inventions are invalid, and that the technology was developed prior to the disputed patent’s filing. It’s called showing “prior art,” and Sammy’s done it before — famously showing a scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey in an attempt to put Apple’s iPad design claims to rest. Today’s examples were more grounded in reality, focusing on debunking Cupertino’s claim to the “bounce back” effect that happens when a user reaches the end of a page and common multitouch zoom / navigation gestures.
Samsung pitted the famous “bounce back” feature against an old PocketPC interface called LaunchTile, which allowed users to navigate through 36 applications by zooming in and out and a panning across a grid-like “world view” of said apps. Movement between grids snap to each zone, marking the end of a page. Apple shot back, noting that LiveTile’s snapping navigation didn’t work on diagonals, and cited other differences as well. Samsung wasn’t deterred, however, and brought out DiamondTouch, a projector based multitouch table that utilized both one touch scrolling and pinch-based zoom gestures. The table even takes aim at the aforementioned bounce-back patent with a technology called TableCloth, which bounces back images that are pulled off screen. DiamondTouch’s creator, Adam Bogue, told the court that he had demoed the technology to Apple privately back in 2003, noting that it was also available to anyone who visited the Mitsubishi Electronic Research Laboratories’ lobby.
If the jury takes to Samsung’s claims of prior art, it could severely cut Apple’s claims against it. Even so, Cupertino’s lawyers aren’t going down without a fight, and still have a number of navigation and design claims that Samsung hasn’t addressed. The two parties are expected to keep up the fight for about a week, we’ll keep you posted on the inevitable revelations as they come.
The plot thickens! Dr. Steve Mann, the human cyborg made famous by an incident in a Parisian McDonald’s, just released a new picture (above) of his altercation with a McD’s staffer. The picture clearly shows a McDonald’s employee touching Dr. Mann’s permanently installed augmented reality eye piece. This invalidates McDonald’s statement, which claims “interaction with Dr. Mann was polite and did not involve a physical altercation.”
Dr. Mann stated the man struck the EyeTap, but like a side-swipe, grabbing motion rather than a direct punch to the face. Apparently, the man touching (or striking) the eye piece is the same person who eventually pushed Dr. Mann on to the street. The person in the background of the new picture later tears up (below) the letter from Mann’s doctor, explaining the device’s need and removal process.
Again, like I stated yesterday, without a video of the incident, it’s hard to say which party is in the wrong but Dr. Mann’s still images tell a chilling story all by themselves.
McDonald’s released a statement yesterday regarding the incident,
“We share the concern regarding Dr. Mann’s account of his July 1 visit to a McDonald’s in Paris. McDonald’s France was made aware of Dr. Mann’s complaints on July 16, and immediately launched a thorough investigation. The McDonald’s France team has contacted Dr. Mann and is awaiting further information from him.
In addition, several staff members involved have been interviewed individually, and all independently and consistently expressed that their interaction with Dr. Mann was polite and did not involve a physical altercation. Our crew members and restaurant security staff have informed us that they did not damage any of Mr. Mann’s personal possessions.
While we continue to learn more about the situation, we are hearing from customers who have questions about what happened. We urge everyone not to speculate or jump to conclusions before all the facts are known. Our goal is to provide a welcoming environment and stellar service to McDonald’s customers around the world.”