The smartphone patent wars have lit up courtrooms around the world. Next up: the smartphone case wars.
makers of protective cases that shield cell phones from coffee spills
and sticky-fingered toddlers are entangled in countless lawsuits seeking
to protect their designs.
The fights come as the mobile
accessories market has gone upscale with some cases made by luxury
designers costing more than the phones they cover. Some cases are billed
as virtually destruction-proof, said to protect precious electronics
from crushing blows or cresting waves.
Smartphones themselves are at the heart of a global patent fight, with Apple Inc battling South Korean giant Samsung Electronics Co over the design of the iPhone and iPad.
now similar fights are escalating over what swaddles the gadgets, as
the smartphone case market has become a roughly $1 billion annual
industry, according to NPD Group, a market research firm. More than 100
million Apple and Samsung phones were shipped in the most recent
quarter, making for more demand.
The damage claims in the case
design fights are tiny compared with the smartphone wars, but the
lawsuits could help spur a shakeout in a crowded market.
The biggest industry players sell their products at Apple and AT&T Inc retail stores, as well as at retailers such as Best Buy Co Inc .
They have had success in getting court judgments against Chinese
counterfeiters and domestic sellers of knock-offs, but the lawsuits
involving one designer against another aren't as easily resolved.
Otter Products Inc, the maker of OtterBox cases, has become a frequent visitor to the courthouse.
Colorado-based company has filed lawsuits in federal court in its home
state against LifeProof, also known as Treefrog Developments Inc, and
Mophie LLC for alleged patent infringement involving waterproof cases
for iPhones, iPods and other devices. Mophie and LifeProof in court
papers have denied the allegations.
Otterbox and Mophie did not
respond to requests for comment. LifeProof declined to comment on
pending litigation. Company spokesmanJonathan Wegner said, however, that
LifeProof has programs in place to protect its own intellectual
The Ballistic Case Co, based in Florida, has also been a
repeat plaintiff. The company has sued rivals Cell-Nerds LLC and
Boxwave Corp for allegedly copying the look of its rugged "Shell Gel"
series of cases, which feature a dotted back and come in an array of
Designers invest significant resources in case styles and deserve legal protection, said Alan Weisberg, a Ballistic attorney.
company has sold more than $12 million worth of Shell Gel cases,
according to court documents, and they are available at major retailers.
Both Cell-Nerds and Boxwave are smaller enterprises that sell cases
online. The Shell Gel models are priced at about $35, while similar
Cell-Nerds and Boxwave cases go for less than $10.
month, a Miami federal judge allowed Ballistic's case against Cell-Nerds
to move forward, while the Boxwave case is in its early stages in the
same court. Ballistic claims it has so-called "trade dress rights" to
the design of its cases and wants similar, rival products off the
An attorney for Cell-Nerds, Ury Fisher, said the company
does not think Ballistic has accurately described its trade dress
rights, and he noted that such cases are difficult to prove because
plaintiffs have to show their product is readily recognizable to
An attorney for Boxwave did not respond to a request for comment.
patent-based lawsuits to succeed, plaintiffs will need to prove another
company is infringing their patents and may also have to show what is
innovative about their designs and worthy of protection.
to infringe, some companies could be forced out of the market, said
intellectual property attorney Christopher Carani of law firmMcAndrews,
Held & Malloy.
So far, however, the in-fighting among case designers does not show signs of slowing down the industry.
have trotted out models they say are tricked out to withstand two tons
of force or can be used to film movies underwater. At the recent
Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas where new case designs seemed to
be on display everywhere, one maker even showed off a case lined in soft
orange putty that is designed to become "rock hard" if the phone is
© Thomson Reuters 2013
Mobiles at CES 2013