Viber could be banned in South Korea over patent suit


Mobile messaging services could be in trouble in South Korea, after Viber’s recent loss of a patent lawsuit to local mobile operator SK Telecom led to a ban on its iOS and Android apps in the country.

A court ruled in favor of SK Telecom’s claim that Rakuten-owned messaging service Viber’s “feature of reorganizing selected information from contact numbers saved in a smartphone into the application” violated a patent held by the mobile carrier since 2006, reports The Korea Herald.

SK Telecom said it will seek to impose a ban on Viber’s apps, but the messaging service has not yet confirmed whether it will appeal to a higher court to contest this.

The patent in question addresses an onboarding function common to many other messaging apps like Line and KakaoTalk, which automatically add contacts from a phone to allow users to quickly find people they know on the network and use the service.

With such apps eating into operators’ voice calling and SMS revenues, it’s no surprise that SK Telecom would want to go after them in court.

However, Viber isn’t at all popular in South Korea, and it’s possible that SK Telecom chose to take it on first as a test case. The company’s legal victory might give it enough firepower to next challenge bigger players like KakaoTalk, which is installed on nearly 95 percent of smartphones in the country.

KakaoTalk said it is aware of the ruling, but hasn’t yet been contacted by SK Telecom in this regard.

We’ve contacted Viber for more information and will update this post when we hear back.

➤ SK Telecom wins patent suit against Viber [The Korea Herald via TechCrunch]

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