In a post on Google’s blog today, the company’s Senior Vice President David Drummond has accused Apple, Microsoft and Oracle of conducting “a hostile, organized campaign against Android…waged through bogus patents.”
In the post, entitled ‘When Patents Attack Android’, Drummond starts out by describing the success that Android has had, reiterating the 550,000-devices-a-day stat that was revealed at the company’s last earnings call.
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He then goes on to state that the success has drawn hostile attention from competitors like Microsoft, Apple and Oracle and that the companies have turned to using patents to wage war.
A smartphone might involve as many as 250,000 (largely questionable) patent claims, and our competitors want to impose a “tax” for these dubious patents that makes Android devices more expensive for consumers. They want to make it harder for manufacturers to sell Android devices. Instead of competing by building new features or devices, they are fighting through litigation.
Drummond says that these companies are doing this by joining forces to scoop up troves of patents that were recently auctioned off by Novell and Nortel, the sales of which were both attended and won by groups that included Apple and Microsoft. He says that this was done to ‘make sure Google didn’t get them’
These companies, says Drummond, will then attempt to use the patents to collect a licensing fee for every Android device, much in the way that Microsoft already does, making it more expensive to license Android than competing OSs like Windows Mobile. Drummond also invokes the recent lawsuits that Apple has pursued against HTC, Motorola, and Samsung. “Patents were meant to encourage innovation,” Drummond states, “but lately they are being used as a weapon to stop it.”
Drummond says that Google is ‘not naive’ about the way that patents affect the industry, noting that some 250,000 patents might be involved with the technology of a smartphone. “But,” he says, “in this instance we thought it was important to speak out and make it clear that we’re determined to preserve Android as a competitive choice for consumers, by stopping those who are trying to strangle it.”
Google is looking at ways to prevent patent holders from causing consumers to face ‘rising costs’ of Android phones and ‘limiting their choices’. To this end, Drummond says that it is looking for ways to improve its patent portfolio and is ‘encouraged’ that the Department of Justice is looking into the circumstances surrounding the acquisition of the Nortel patents.
What the post doesn’t mention is almost as interesting as what it does. There is no note, for instance, that Google was a participant in the Nortel auction themselves, but seemingly took the proceedings very lightly, offering up bizarre bids like ‘Pi’ and the Meisel-Mertens constant. With the post, Google seems to position itself as the beleagured upstart that is offering its operating system ‘for free’ and being set upon by opposing companies that are using patents to wage a war that they cannot win through competition.
But it also shows that Google is really taking the patent wars seriously and is actively looking for ways to defend its platform against Apple, Microsoft, Oracle and other companies that are in a position to use patents to stifle its growth. As a company, Google has seemingly been content to pay whatever it takes to companies to license their patents. Now, it seems that it is taking an at least overt stance that reflects its opinion on the patent wars.
Google has recently been under direct fire from Oracle over a set of patents and has been engaged in an ongoing legal battle that could force them to pay out damages in the billion-dollar range if it is found to infringe them. It also may be responding to suits brought by Apple against Android phone maker HTC that may actually be related to core Android components, not just HTC’s hardware.
Any one of these could have provided impetus for this statement that shows that Google is no longer willing to silently fight these patent wars. Drummond makes it clear with this statement that Google is “determined to preserve Android as a competitive choice for consumers, by stopping those who are trying to strangle it.”
Regardless of your position on the concept of patent wars, it looks like this one just got a whole lot hotter.