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Apple, Google & Microsoft among tech titans discussing patent ceasefire

Patent wars have been topping tech headlines for months, but in a rare show of solidarity yesterday, a range of industry giants met to talk about peace in patent litigation.

During a roundtable discussion hosted by the UN's International Telecommunications Union (ITU) at its Geneva headquarters, Google, Apple, Microsoft, and others like RIM and Nokia, debated topics aimed at protecting companies' intellectual property without slowing innovation.

The purpose of the gathering "is to provide a neutral venue for industry, standards bodies and regulators to exchange innovative ideas that can guide future discussions on whether current patent policies and existing industry practices adequately respond to the needs of the various stakeholders," according to the ITU website.

Translation: the talks are intended to determine whether tech firms are playing fair when it comes to patents. Companies that hold patents for technology that is now considered to be "essential" for the operation of today's gadgets are supposed to license those patents to rivals on fair and reasonable grounds. But many a tech company - including Samsung and Motorola - has been accused of asking for extremely high licensing fees and suing when those fees are not paid.

The schedule included a talk about standard essential patent litigation, time to share ideas and perspectives, and a brainstorming session to plan possible compromises for future issues, should they arise.

"According to some stakeholders, the effect of these widespread and long-lasting disputes and investigations regarding RAND [reasonable and non-discriminatory] licensing approaches could stifle, rather than promote, innovation and competition within the ICT industry," the Telecommunications Union said in a description of today's meeting.

The ITU reported that among the long list of attendees were Apple, Cisco, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia, Panasonic, Qualcomm, Research In Motion, Samsung, the US Department of Justice, and the US Federal Trade Commission.

The most public of the recent patent cases landed Samsung and Apple in court, where months of fighting left Samsung in the dust and strapped with $1.05 billion (£656m) in damages. The feud began in April 2011, when the Cupertino-based firm sued Samsung for copying the iPhone and iPad design with its Galaxy lineup of devices. Samsung is currently appealing on the grounds of juror misconduct and a further decision is expected in December.

Samsung is not Apple's only legal foe. In August, Motorola filed an additional complaint, which accused Apple of infringing on seven of its patents for features like Siri, location reminders, phone and video player, and email notifications. The Cupertino-based tech titan is also battling HTC, while Motorola has its hands full with Microsoft.