War of Words over Android Patents Continues Between Microsoft and Google
Two Microsoft executives are contesting earlier complaints by Google over patents relating to the Android mobile OS.
A top lawyer for Google claimed in a blog post yesterday that Microsoft, Apple and Oracle have teamed up to attack the Google-shepherded Android mobile operating system. Those companies are colluding to hoard patents and encumber Android with lawsuits, Google claims.
David Drummond, Google's senior vice president and chief legal officer, cited two examples. First, Microsoft, Apple and Oracle worked together to buy Novell's patents. Second, Microsoft and Apple teamed up with a coalition to buy Nortel's patents. In both cases, Google was outbid.
The aim of these efforts, Drummond implied, was collusion to attack Android legally since it has been a success in the mobile device marketplace, competing with Microsoft and Apple mobile operating systems.
In response to Drummond's claims, Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel and senior vice president for legal and corporate affairs, issued a Twitter post claiming that Microsoft had invited Google to "bid jointly with us" for the Novell patents. Google had declined that offer, according to Smith.
Frank Shaw, Microsoft's corporate vice president for corporate communications, echoed Smith's claim in a second Microsoft Twitter post on the topic. Shaw implied that Kent Walker, Google's senior vice president and general counsel, had sent an e-mail declining the Novell patents joint bidding offer. This e-mail, which lacks specifics, was apparently given to media outlets, such as the Business Insider.
Drummond updated his blog post today, describing Microsoft's offer as akin to a legal trick or ploy.
"A joint acquisition of the Novell patents that gave all parties a license would have eliminated any protection these patents could offer to Android against attacks from Microsoft and its bidding partners," Drummond explained in his update. "Making sure that we would be unable to assert these patents to defend Android -- and having us pay for the privilege -- must have seemed like an ingenious strategy to them. We didn't fall for it."
Google claims to be generally dismayed with low-quality patents being used to discourage innovation. Walker took that position in an April blog post. He claimed that Google has long advocated patent reform, but that it is also working to develop a "formidable patent portfolio" as a defensive measure. A possible example was Google's purchase of 1,030 IBM patents late last month, although that purchase was unannounced, and unexplained, by Google.
Walker implied in a recent TechCrunch interview that mobile device makers using Android have enough patents to fend off legal attacks from Microsoft, citing Samsung with its 30,000 patents and Motorola with "thousands more." However, that scenario appears not to be happening for other mobile device companies. Microsoft early on announced a royalty agreement with HTC over Android use, and other companies followed suit. Only Motorola and Barnes & Noble appear to be putting up prolonged legal fights against Microsoft's claims.
Meanwhile, Apple is also battering mobile device makers on the Android legal front. A court recently found that HTC infringed Apple's patents. Apple's legal victories over Android use may be even more trouble for device makers than Microsoft's efforts. A ZDNet article noted that Apple doesn't necessarily license its technologies to other companies, for instance.
Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.