Thursday, August 4, 2011

Google, Android, and the Patent Wars

Lots of vitriol flying around the internet today regarding this Google blog post by David Drummond, Google's Chief Legal Officer:

I have worked in the tech sector for over two decades. Microsoft and Apple have always been at each other’s throats, so when they get into bed together you have to start wondering what's going on. Here is what’s happening:

Android is on fire. More than 550,000 Android devices are activated every day, through a network of 39 manufacturers and 231 carriers. Android and other platforms are competing hard against each other, and that’s yielding cool new devices and amazing mobile apps for consumers.

But Android’s success has yielded something else: a hostile, organized campaign against Android by Microsoft, Oracle, Apple and other companies, waged through bogus patents.

They’re doing this by banding together to acquire Novell’s old patents (the “CPTN” group including Microsoft and Apple) and Nortel’s old patents (the “Rockstar” group including Microsoft and Apple), to make sure Google didn’t get them; seeking $15 licensing fees for every Android device; attempting to make it more expensive for phone manufacturers to license Android (which we provide free of charge) than Windows Phone 7; and even suing Barnes & Noble, HTC, Motorola, and Samsung. Patents were meant to encourage innovation, but lately they are being used as a weapon to stop it.

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.

This anti-competitive strategy is also escalating the cost of patents way beyond what they’re really worth. The winning $4.5 billion for Nortel’s patent portfolio was nearly five times larger than the pre-auction estimate of $1 billion. Fortunately, the law frowns on the accumulation of dubious patents for anti-competitive means — which means these deals are likely to draw regulatory scrutiny, and this patent bubble will pop.

We’re not naive; technology is a tough and ever-changing industry and we work very hard to stay focused on our own business and make better products. But 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.

We’re looking intensely at a number of ways to do that. We’re encouraged that the Department of Justice forced the group I mentioned earlier to license the former Novell patents on fair terms, and that it’s looking into whether Microsoft and Apple acquired the Nortel patents for anti-competitive means. We’re also looking at other ways to reduce the anti-competitive threats against Android by strengthening our own patent portfolio. Unless we act, consumers could face rising costs for Android devices — and fewer choices for their next phone.

Of course, I make my livelihood from Android, so I can't claim to be unbiased, but here Google is clearly right.

But there's stuff like this generating lots of traffic:

Google Are Pussies

Everything -- every single fucking thing -- since Bill Clinton has been a copy, a steal, a buy-out -- or a take down.

And now, you pussies, you are in a fight with companies that are equally big, probably better run, and have something you don't: scars, scars from real battles, and you run to the PR teams and the lobbyists and the government and cry: no fair.

Patents bad. We want! Give us!

Tell me, pussies. Which of the Oracle and Microsoft and Apple patents are "bogus"? You say it above. BOGUS PATENTS...Oracle, Apple, Microsoft.

Which ones? Don't be a pussy. Tell us. Which ones are bogus?

And while you're at it, tell us which patents are not bogus? Any? Do you believe in intellectual property? Property ownership? Or is it all there for Google's taking?

I think I can answer that one pretty well. Which of the patents that Microsoft and Apple just banded together to fork out billions of dollars to acquire from Novell's old patent portfolio are bogus?

All of them. In the sense that these were not technological innovations that Apple or Microsoft conceived and used the patent system to protect. These patents are ammunition, plain and simple. They have nothing to do with protecting the intellectual property of any of the companies involved.

Microsoft, Apple, and the other purchasers of the patent portfolio are making a calculated investment in these patents under the assumption that they will either:

A) Be able to severely hurt Android's market share by filing patent lawsuits based on this portfolio, thereby helping the market share of their own products in a highly competitive space.


B) Generate direct revenue by essentially extorting Google for licensing fees.

Again, this has absolutely nothing to do with protecting intellectual property, which is the purpose of the patent system. In fact, it's the opposite. Apple and Microsoft are going to use this war chest of purchased patents to file lawsuits and injunctions against their largest competitor, rather than trying to compete by building a better product.

People are calling out Google as hypocrites for bidding on the patents themselves, and now sore losers for not being able to get them for the price they bid. It's obvious that they bid on the patents as a defensive move. Unfortunately the patents themselves are meaningless in terms of actually representing true innovations developed in house at these companies. These patents are simply fuel for proxy battles. And Google can't merely sit by while their competitors snatch up patent portfolios, giving them more and more ammunition for endless lawsuits.

Basically the whole system is fucked, but it is unlikely to change anytime in the near future. I'd like to hear that the patent system, especially with regard to software, is undergoing review for massive reforms, but I don't think that's the case. As it is, the big dogs will just continue to try to amass as many patents as possible and hash out these issues in expensive, lengthy legal disputes. This will be time and money that won't go into actually developing cooler, better products, and in fact the proxy patent wars will lead to overall higher prices for consumers no matter what the outcome.


  1. Time to start sending our kids to law school to become patent attorneys. Their future will be bright.

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