Despite Apple's apparent intellectual-property war on iPhone and iPad lookalikes, it appears the company has licensed at least one key iOS software patent to Nokia and IBM--and that it offered a license to current court rival Samsung as well.
Nilay Patel at The Verge reports that a court order released last night contains confirmation of the Nokia, IBM, and Samsung information. The Verge was apparently shown the text behind blacked-out portions of the court order, which denied Apple's request for a preliminary injunction against the sale in the U.S. of a clutch of Samsung devices Apple claims are essentially knock-offs of the iPhone or iPad.
The court order presents the licensing information as a point in Samsung's favor, quoting a previous legal case as saying, "...the fact that a patentee has previously chosen to license the patent may indicate that a reasonable royalty does compensate for an infringement..."
In the case, Apple claims Samsung is infringing the very patent it previously failed to license, a patent that covers the iOS operating system's "scrollback" feature, which governs how an iOS device visually indicates when a user has scrolled beyond the limits of a Web page.
Patel points out that at the time of a patent settlement with Nokia last summer, Apple said it had maintained control over "the majority of the innovation that makes the iPhone unique," but that scrollback is one of iOS' most distinctive features.
Patel notes that it remains unclear why the November 2010 Apple-Samsung settlement talks that included the scrollback licensing offer to Samsung fell apart, or which company may have put the kibosh on the deal. It's also not clear if the two companies are currently engaged in settlement talks.
The willingness to license such a feature would seem to run counter to Steve Jobs' desire to "go thermonuclear war" on makers of Android-based devices, Patel says, and would seem to suggest a less draconian attitude on Apple's part toward its stewardship of iOS and the iconic devices that are powered by it.