The fierce patent war unfolding in the technology sector has intensified: Google has finally fired a salvo in a missive posted on its blog, calling patent-lapping efforts by companies like Microsoft, Oracle and Apple an attempt to sabotage Android's march.
David Drummond, Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer, Google, blogged: "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 also cited strange relationships developing within the tech sector as former competitors are joining hands in a bid to acquire more patents. Drummond speaking of these unholy alliances said: "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."
Google's diatribe against Microsoft, Oracle and Apple comes just days after the Rockstar consortium comprising of Microsoft, RIM, Sony, Apple, EMC and Sony Ericsson completed the $4.5 billion purchase of 6,000 patents from Nortel Networks. And while Google has dismissed the deal as an "organized campaign against Android," the search-engine giant was also in play for the Nortel patents. It had bid $4 billion for the patents before the Rockstar consortium outbid Google with $4.5 billion.
Google had explained its intent to purchase Nortel patents on its blog, stating: "One of a company's best defenses against this kind of litigation is (ironically) to have a formidable patent portfolio, as this helps maintain your freedom to develop new products and services. Google is a relatively young company, and although we have a growing number of patents, many of our competitors have larger portfolios given their longer histories."
Thus, Google's comments, which call the consortium's effort as an attempt 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" could be merely an expression of exasperation over losing the patent deal.
Google also cited Microsoft's attempt to band with Apple under the CPTN consortium, to snatch the Novell patents -- a charge against which Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith tweeted: "Google says we bought Novell patents to keep them from Google. Really? We asked them to bid jointly with us. They said no."
Microsoft-led consortium CPTN Holdings, which consisted of partners EMC, Oracle and Apple, had acquired 882 Novell patents as part of Attachmate's $2.2 billion acquisition of Novell. However, the actual contents of the patents are still under wraps.The acquisition had left the open-source community jilted, as it was primarily concerned about the future of UNIX and OpenSUSE.
As part of the first phase of the CPTN's purchase of Novell patents, the consortium had to alter their original agreements to address anti-trust concerns.
The key reason Google highlights for the dubious nature of the patent purchases is because of its Android smartphone OS. Google claims that currently 550,000 Android devices are activated each day through 39 manufacturers and 231 carriers globally. Google has a reason to believe dicey intentions as last year Oracle filed a patent lawsuit against Android. At the center of the storm is Android's Dalvik virtual machine (VM) which uses a Linux kernel as an abstraction layer and a set of Apache Harmony library - a clean room, open source implementation of Java from the Apache Software Foundation. However, Apache had failed to avail a TCK from Sun, which gave Oracle the premise to corner Google. Oracle got Java after it acquired Sun Microsystems in 2010 for $7 billion. The patent lawsuit charges Google of infringing on seven patents.
Oracle later claimed that Android's class libraries and documentation encroach on its copyrights and that approximately one-third of Android's API packages are derived from Oracle's copyrighted Java API packages.
And while the only direct attack that Google has faced in the smartphone domain has come from Oracle, an enterprise software company which has no dealings with phones certainly raises questions about Oracle's motivations.
However Android phone makers HTC, Samsung and Motorola have been under fire from Apple, which has filed multiple lawsuits against these manufacturers. Recently Apple gained an edge in its lawsuit against HTC when the International Trade Commission (ITC) made a preliminary ruling that HTC infringed on two of Apple's patents. Apple also gained ground against Samsung in Australia where the court favored Apple as it banned the sales of Galaxy Tab.
HTC last year in April announced a patent agreement with Microsoft which grants it broad coverage under Microsoft's patents portfolio, for HTC devices running Google's Android.
Google claims that the consortium of companies involving Microsoft, Apple, Oracle and others are seeking $15 as licensing fees per Android device through the Nortel and Novell patents. Google states that a smartphone involves about 250,000 largely questionable patents which it deems are used for anti-competitive purposes.
In order to shield itself from such an assault Google recently bought a 1,000 patents from IBM which covers areas like relational databases, object-oriented programming and business processes. eWeek also reported that other areas covered by the patents include fabrication and architecture of memory, micro processing chips, computer architecture including servers and routers. Google has been on a patent buying spree as well having recently acquired IP from Exbiblio, Widevine, Verizon, Myraid Group and Metaram.
Another patent war looms ahead as Bloomberg reported that Apple, Samsung and Google are involved as potential bidders for InterDigital Inc's patent portfolio of about 8,800 patents on inventions used in devices like iPhone, Android and RIM BlackBerry smartphones.
In the above stated deal, if Microsoft jumps in then, Apple together with Microsoft will gain more fire power as both the companies combined have $100 billion worth of buying power. Thus they can out bid Google from this deal as well.
Smartphone industry is at a nascent stage and companies are jostling for dominance. In the process companies like Motorola and Nokia which entirely depend on handset sales have seen their market share being taken by software makers like Apple. Thus the only recourse for many of these traditional firms is to exercise IPs sitting on their balance sheet as assets, seeking injunction to protect their market share. And on the fringes are companies that have patents related to smartphones but do not manufacture them, like Oracle, who are looking to capitalize on the smartphone boom by exercising these patents.
Until clear market leaders emerge the smartphone war will continue to see more patent lawsuits and unique relationships developing between technology companies.