SK Telecom Co., South Korea's No. 1 mobile carrier, on Monday won a patent lawsuit against global mobile messenger Viber, a court ruling that could shut out the messenger service from local smartphones.
The Seoul Central District Court said Viber has infringed on four patents held by SK Telecom and that the company should not distribute its application in the South Korean market.
In the lawsuit filed last year, SK Telecom had claimed that Viber's feature of reorganizing selected information from contact numbers saved in a smartphone into the application violates the copyright it had registered in 2006.
"The ban will be imposed both on the Android and Apple iOS platforms," an official from SK Telecom said. "We have not yet heard from Viber whether it will bring the case to the higher court."
"The lawsuit came as Viber evidently infringed our patent rights," the official added. "The move does not necessarily mean that it will spread to other messenger apps like Kakao Talk. We have not reviewed such moves."
Industry sources, however, say the patent lawsuit by SK Telecom, if upheld by the higher court, may also affect KakaoTalk, the most popular mobile application powered by Daum Kakao Corp., as the app also adopts a similar technology. KakaoTalk has an estimated 37 million local users in the country of 50 million people.
Last year, Talmon Marco, the CEO and founder of Viber, argued that SK Telecom's move is aimed at stopping companies like Viber and KakaoTalk from operating and to force all Korean users back to short-message-services. The mobile carrier denies the accusations, saying the lawsuit is for the protection of its technology.
Viber was launched in 2010 by four Israeli entrepreneurs -- Marco, Igor Megzinik, Sani Maroli and Ofer Smocha. It runs on most major platforms, including Windows 8, Android, iOS, BlackBerry and Nokia.
Viber currently has some 360 million users in 193 countries, with services being provided in 38 languages, including English, Hebrew, Japanese and Korean. The service provider was acquired by Japan-based online retailer Rakuten Corp. last year for $900 million. (Yonhap)