Google, Apple CEOs Talk While Their Patent Battles Rage: Report

Even as their companies are fighting in courts around the globe over patent-infringement claims, Google and Apple leaders are apparently talking privately to try to make amends.

Google's and Apple's top executives apparently have been meeting in private to resolve some of their intellectual-property differences despite the patent-infringement claims swirling between their two companies, according to a report from Reuters.

The discussions between Google CEO Larry Page and Apple CEO Tim Cook so far have included key topics such as the mobile patent disputes that have had the two companies at odds for much of this year so far, according to the story.

"The two executives had a phone conversation last week," even as related talks between lower-level officials of the companies are also being conducted, Reuters reported. "Page and Cook are expected to talk again in the coming weeks, though no firm date has been set, the sources said on Thursday. One of the sources told Reuters that a meeting had been scheduled for this Friday, but had been delayed for reasons that were unclear."

While the content of the calls so far has not yet been disclosed, a possible subject is how Google and Apple might agree to a "truce involving disputes over basic features and functions in Google's Android mobile software," according to Reuters.

Eric LaMorte, a patent attorney from the Philadelphia area, said the secret talks between the Google and Apple CEOs come as no surprise in the legal world.

"When you have companies the size of those two, Apple and Google, each one of them has thousands of patents," LaMorte told eWEEK. "So inevitably they counter their claims on their patents," balancing the specifications of patents they hold against claims from the other for similar features. In that way, details and patents can overlap, but instead of battling in court, they can agree to alternatives.

"What they end up doing is cross-licensing them and then blocking their patents together" in cooperation with each other, said LaMorte. "If that is beneficial to both sides, they say 'great' and move on."

These kinds of arrangements and cross-licensing deals happen frequently in patent-infringement cases so that both sides can get out of court and get back into the marketplace, he said. If one side feels it is giving up more than the other in such a cross-licensing agreement, cash payments can also be included to make up the differences, he said.

"It's inevitable that when big companies sue each other that there are always discussions going on between attorneys and the key business officers of the companies about how they can reduce their legal battles by cross licensing," LaMorte said. "I'm sure that they are looking at it from that viewpoint."

Google and Apple have been at odds much more frequently in 2012 as they drift from being partners in the mobile marketplace to taking on more direct roles as key competitors. When Apple introduced its iPhone in 2007, it partnered with Google for much-needed content services, but that relationship has been strained in recent months.

In May, Apple announced that it will drop the highly popular Google Maps app from its iPhones and iOS operating system and replace it with Apple's own mapping services.

The Apple-Google battles follow Google's development and the widespread popularity of its Android mobile phone operating system, which is in direct competition with Apple's iOS and products.

According to a July report from data analysis firm Chitika, the race between the two mobile operating systems is evening up as Android development is perhaps finally catching up to iOS development in terms of the interest of app developers from around the world.

Google escalated its battle with Apple earlier in August when its Motorola unit sued Apple for patent infringement, claiming that Apple has violated patents related to email notifications, video players and location reminders as well as patents related to Apple's Siri voice-recognition program. The patent claims, which are in Motorola's second lawsuit against Apple recently, involve designs in Apple iPads, iPhones and various Mac computers, including the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro.

Google bought the Motorola Mobility unit in May for $12.5 billion as it continues to build up its power and holdings in the battle for a bigger chunk of the mobile marketplace, which continues to grow annually.

The new lawsuit is an apparent extension of what has been playing out as an escalating market war between Apple and Google over the last six months. Apple previously announced that it is removing Google's YouTube and Google Maps apps from its devices. Meanwhile, Google has been bringing out Siri-like voice-activation services for its Android mobile operating system, which is gaining developers and market share and becoming a keen competitor against Apple and iOS. Google is even bringing out a version of its voice services for iPhones and iPads to take on Apple in its own backyard.