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Will Patent Wars Raise Smartphone Prices?

Costly legal battles between tech rivals over patents may eventually raise the price of iPhones and Android handsets, experts say.

Apple, HTC, Motorola, Samsung and other handset manufacturers are embroiled in a growing number of lawsuits against each other over unique features including “slide to unlock,” digital image storage methods and calendar software, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The companies claim ownership of even minor features gives them an edge in the $200 billion market.

These ongoing battles so far haven’t impacted consumers. “The likely outcome will be settlements and cross-licensing agreements,” says Harry Wang, mobile research director for Parks Associates. The companies involved are both well-funded and have a number of patents themselves, she says. They have also been devising work-arounds that allow them to maintain the user experience without infringing on another company’s patent. Translation: your favorite brand probably isn’t going anywhere, and you won’t be left with a dud phone.

But the expense of continued legal action and settlements could trickle down to smartphone prices, says Andrew Eisner, director of editorial content for electronics site Retrevo.com. Prices dropped steadily over the past year, with the average phone now costing $135, according to NPD Group. The patent war could slow, or stop that price slide for some brands, he says — although consumers who pay the subsidized rate through a carrier may not notice much of a difference.

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