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Legal disptach from the Consumer Electronics Show

Frank Gorman of Gorman & Williams is in Las Vegas for the annual Consumer Electronics Show. It’s Gorman’s first time at CES since 2007, although he attended for most of the Aughts.

The Baltimore lawyer says he goes “to see and keep up with technology,” which helps in his intellectual property practice. He is also an enthusiastic advocate of courtroom technology.

Gorman has graciously offered to write a few dispatches from Vegas. Today is an overview of CES; Monday he’ll have a look at some of the cool gadgets that are the hallmark of the event.

Gadgets aside, the big-picture story at CES 2011 is the increasing competition among the major players in the industry as they use existing technologies to create new products and services.

CES 2011 is big and sprawling, as in previous years. There are more than 2,700 exhibitors with booths in the Las Vegas Convention Center touting an incredible variety of consumer electronic products and services. There is a full array of conferences, presentations, and keynote speakers. There are thousands of registered attendees. Lots of deals will be made. In short, the excitement in Las Vegas this week is the event itself.

CES this year, however, is not a showcase for breakthrough technologies that permit consumers to do things they could not do before. In previous years, the excitement came from dramatic changes: broadband replaces dial-up; streaming digital content from its source eliminates the need for CDs and DVDs; Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) ends the monopoly of keyboarding and permits consumers to communicate over the Internet by voice; wireless frees consumers from cords.

Instead, CES 2011 is the arena for the competing products that have resulted from high-level market competition in the industry. Software giants Google, Microsoft, Apple are each innovating and maneuvering to gain dominance in markets previously dominated by the others.

Google now has the Android operating system for smart phones. On Thursday at CES, Google demonstrated the “Honeycomb” version of the Android operating system on a Motorola-made tablet. Operating systems used to be the province of Microsoft and Apple, but no longer.

Apple’s iPad tablet could overtake traditional laptops, a market dominated by Dell, Sony, HP and other computer manufacturers. Many companies at CES 2011 are following Apple’s lead and are promoting their own tablets.

Expanding and breaking into markets of other companies is happening at all levels throughout the industry. Communication companies with broadband, such as Verizon and Comcast, were the thought to be the obvious providers of on–demand movies in consumers’ homes. Suddenly, Netflix is a major competitor and providing on-demand movies using Nintendo’s Wii console.

Meanwhile, Microsoft seems to be struggling to keep up, and Facebook is a sleeping giant that is likely to expand beyond its huge social media network.

This competition across markets is good for consumers. Equally as important, it opens up new opportunities for the smaller businesses in the industry, many of whom are exhibitors at CES. These smaller businesses are the innovators who make the devices and gadgets that attract most of the attention at CES.