Google senior VP and chief legal officer David Drummond has published an open letter criticizing the rush on patents in the mobile industry with all targeting Google’s Android platform.
“Android is on fire,” he writes. “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.”
He was making a direct reference to the moves by major firms to “band together” to acquire patents held by struggling firms, citing a successful $4.5 billion bid by Microsoft, Apple and others in June to acquire 600 patents from Nortel. The goal, according to him, was to “make sure Google didn’t get them [the patents],” the letter alleges. Drummond also complains about things like Microsoft demanding that companies like Samsung pay licensing fees for Android phones.
“Patents were meant to encourage innovation, but lately they are being used as a weapon to stop it,” the VP continues. “
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. Microsoft and Apple’s 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.”
Drummond says Google is “encouraged” that the Department of Justice forced a change in the terms of the Novell deal, and investigating whether Apple and Microsoft bought the Nortel patents for anti-competitive reasons. “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,” the letter concludes. Recently it was revealed that Google acquired 1,030 IBM patents in July.
Some time ago, Florian Mueller, an observer (and a host of other Android apologists) who has posted blogs about numerous Android patent disputes, has criticized Google for not rising to the defense of Android and its large, global group of independent developers. Mueller told said that Drummond’s response “reflects profound concern on Google’s part over the patent situation surrounding Android.”
But Mueller added that he disagreed with Drummond over how organized the anti-Android campaign is. “As an observer of those disputes, I actually don’t see any indications of an ‘organized, hostile campaign’ going on,” Mueller said. He said the companies attacking Android are doing business as usual and that Microsoft had begun buying up patent licenses “years before Android” appeared. Mueller added that Oracle’s patent disputes over Android stem from wanting to monetize Java and “show the world who controls that platform.”
As of May, Mueller said he had counted more than 40 patent infringement lawsuits mostly over Android. Many companies such as Samsung are buying up pools of patent licenses related to smartphone software just to be able to grab a piece of ownership of the intellectual property included in devices such as smartphones, he added. Drummond noted that a smartphone is highly complex computer and radio technology that could generate as many as 250,000 patent claims by opponents, claims that he said would likely be “largely questionable.”
The patent claims can lead to increased licensing fees that end up like a tax that makes Android device more expensive for consumers, Drummond said. He said Google is determined to fight patent claims, though he didn’t say how. “We’re determined to preserve Android as a competitive choice for consumers, by stopping those who are trying to strangle it,” he wrote.
Google is also planning to strengthen its own patent portfolio presumably by buying licenses from collectives such as Intellectual Ventures. The company must act or consumers “could face rising costs for Android devices–and fewer choices for their next phone,” Drummond said.