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Summary:

Android is the hot smartphone platform currently, and that means the competition has it squarely in its sites. HTC has been the target for Apple and Microsoft, but Android is the definite victim. The Microsoft agreement HTC signed may have a long-term affect on Android.

Android Target

Android is the hot smartphone platform currently, and that means the competition has it squarely in its sights. Apple fired the first salvo with its patent infringement claims against HTC. HTC is the largest maker of Android phones, so the suit is a shot across the bow of Android. Then we had HTC sign a deal with Microsoft that gives the handset maker protection over potential infringement of Redmond’s intellectual property (IP) for all Android handsets sold. No matter what you think about Apple’s claims, the HTC deal with Microsoft may have the biggest long-term impact on Android.

Android is hanging in the breeze a bit due to Google’s lack of a mobile IP portfolio. The company is new to the smartphone game, so it lacks years of patents to cover its back like most of the competition. No matter which side of the fence you are on in regards to IP protection actions, having its own IP would at least give Google a fallback position against claims, current and future.

It’s hard to predict what the outcome in the Apple/ HTC case will be, but the Microsoft deal HTC signed may have a bigger affect on Android than the Apple situation. HTC is the largest maker of Android phones, and by signing the deal with Microsoft it has basically admitted that Android may indeed infringe on Redmond’s technology. HTC will pay a royalty to Microsoft on every Android phone it sells, so it’s not likely the protection deal was signed “just in case.”

Now that HTC has taken this position with Microsoft, it may behoove other Android phone makers to do the same. Motorola has emerged big in the Android space, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was in conversation with Microsoft about doing a deal similar to the HTC agreement. No matter how this all shakes out, there is a potential disruption in the growth Android has been achieving since its launch. It is worth keeping an eye on this whole Android/ IP mess, and for those wanting a closer look at the situation check out my analysis (subscription required).

  1. Microsoft has a long-standing strategy of trying to do this with Linux vendors. They basically pay the company a bunch of money for something else, and oh my, at the same time, the company happens to realize their linux-based OS infringes patents. Fancy that. A license that costs less than the money they’re getting from Microsoft is negotiated.

    MS may finally be getting to where they can point to all the other people who signed and just demand money, though.

  2. Ah, I meant to also say — Google has a mobile patent porfolio as small as Apple’s, but they haven’t sued anyone yet. :)

    1. “Google has a mobile patent porfolio 50 times as small as Apple’s, but they haven’t sued anyone yet.”

      Comment corrected.

      Apple will sue to eliminate or slow down the Android copiers. It’s tough innovating ‘magic’, much easier to rip it off and copy it.

      The good news is that the Androids are copying it badly.

  3. You forget something about the HTC licence agreement.

    HTC make their own UI for Android (Sense) and it is quite possible that the licence with Microsoft relates to Sense and not Android. As far as I am aware no details of the licencing agreement were made public.

    If Microsoft thought they could get Android killed they would not go after HTC.

    It will be interesting to see what Google do though. I almost expected them to buy Palm to buy the patent portfolio. I would therefore assume that Google have no concerns with regards patents for Android.

    Also don’t underestimate the power of Google’s finances. They make buckets of money and spend relatively little. If they need to buy a mobile patent portfolio they will.

    1. James Kendrick Mike Monday, May 10, 2010

      Microsoft stated they have a concern about Android, not HTC. Yet HTC signed the agreement. I doubt Sense is the issue.

      1. I’m afraid your analysis doesn’t make “Sense.” Sorry about the pun.

        If someone steals something from you and I knowingly obtain the stolen goods and then pay you to absolve myself of my crime, what does that say about the original theft? In this case either Microsoft is using Google as a transaction partner or its exhorting money from HTC, either of which doesn’t make any sense.

        What does make sense is that Microsoft has licensed technology to HTC unrelated to Android. If Microsoft feels Google is infringing on its patents, Microsoft needs to go directly after Google. Putting pressure on Google’s partners would only lead to a legal quagmire, something that Microsoft legal is most certainly aware of.

  4. No, Droids have all others in their sights. My Droids are taking over your world and we will do it in just a few of your earth years! I predicted we would put an end to Palm. See, already that has happened. Droids are here to stay.

    R2D2 here and I know my Droids.

  5. As far as I know, Google pays people to use their OS. I don’t believe Microsoft does that.

    1. Cite a source for that, rich. Android commands 28% of the smartphone marketshare in the US. That doesn’t sound like an achievement you can pay people for.
      I’d really, just once, like to see Microsoft back up this scare tactic with a SHRED of evidence. Is that too much to ask? Microsoft realizes they are irrelevant and free software will eat its lunch unless they paint it with this ridiculous IP-infringement BS.

      1. Google shares ad revenues with handset makers using Android: http://jkontherun.com/2010/03/25/why-is-the-android-logo-green-revenue-sharing/

      2. Zing! I’d completely forgotten about that; thanks for reminding me, Kevin. And of course the incumbents are terrified because Google got it righter than they did. Those that can, do, and those that can’t, sue.

      3. No Zing intended! ;)

  6. Nicholas Chase Monday, May 10, 2010

    “HTC is the largest maker of Android phones, and by signing the deal with Microsoft it has basically admitted that Android may indeed infringe on Redmond’s technology. HTC will pay a royalty to Microsoft on every Android phone it sells, so it’s not likely the protection deal was signed ‘just in case.'”
    That assertion is a big leap of logic. IP suits cost huge amounts to the supposed infringer compared to the purported IP holder. We’re talking multimillion dollar suits, and HTC is already being sued by Apple. I don’t thing they want to fight two supergiants at a time; HTC’s net income is less than half the net income microsoft lost year-over-year.
    It’s very convenient for microsoft to deal in only closed-source applications. For all we know, they could be rife with patent violations.
    But I digress. My point is this is far from an admission of guilt.

  7. “Android is the hot smartphone platform currently, and that means the competition has it squarely in its sites.”

    SITES?

    1. James Kendrick LD Tuesday, May 11, 2010

      Fixed, thanks.

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