Photo: Steve Kovach, Business Insider
Bolstered by a huge victory in its patent-infringement case against Samsung, where could Apple turn next?To the north, in Seattle, there’s a juicy target: Amazon.com.
Amazon is widely expected to introduce new mobile devices next month—possibly a smartphone but almost certainly new Kindle tablets that compete with the iPad.
Either way, Apple’s not going to like that.
Far more broadly, Amazon and Apple have been on a collision course in digital media and e-commerce for years.
Apple and Amazon sell music. Apple and Amazon sell movies. Apple and Amazon sell e-books. And Apple and Amazon both sell tablets, the iPad and the Kindle families, designed to consume the media they sell.
The companies weren’t always on unfriendly terms. In 2000, Apple and Amazon struck a patent cross-licensing agreement that covered Amazon’s famous 1-Click checkout.
And in the ensuing years, the companies have not publicly engaged in any notable patent battles, suggesting that the companies’ deal may provide for an ongoing patent ceasefire.
We asked Apple and Amazon for comment on this story. Amazon declined to comment and Apple didn’t respond to our request.
But even in that press release announcing its 1-Click deal, Apple was touting its own innovations. It noted that one-click downloading of digital software was an “industry first.”
In the years since, Apple has been building up a formidable patent library in digital media. Patrice Gautier, an Apple engineering vice president in charge of the iTunes Store and iCloud, has his name on a dozen patents, most related to downloading and purchasing digital media, and 30 pending applications.
In May, patents expert Florian Mueller speculated that Amazon could be a “logical” target for some of Apple’s tablet-related patents.
Amazon has been busy, too. In 2010, it signed a cross-licensing deal with Microsoft to cover a variety of patents. And recently, it’s been recruiting intellectual-property experts to build up its portfolio.
Apple and Amazon have been tussling in court over the term “app store” after Amazon launched its Android Appstore in March 2011. Apple believes it’s a protected trademark. Amazon says it’s a generic term.
Meanwhile, Apple has been making quiet moves into e-commerce, noting that 400 million users have registered credit cards to their iTunes accounts, more than double the number of active Amazon accounts. Its new mobile operating system, iOS 6, has a Passbook feature for coupons and tickets which many believe is its first step into offering a digital wallet.
If Apple and Amazon go to war, the dispute could blow away Apple v. Samsung, covering smartphones, tablets, e-commerce, and digital payments. The question of just how explosive it could get depends on the details of the agreement Amazon and Apple struck way back in 2000.
Get ready, because Apple and Amazon are already girded for battle.