Schmidt dismisses Android patent suits, but partners unsure


If Android’s mounting patent issues are a concern, Google chairman Eric Schmidt isn’t letting on about it. He dismissed the growing patent issues as “legal fun” at a Google mobile event in Tokyo and called out competitors for their propensity to litigate instead of innovate. 

The comments came after a U.S. International Trade Commission judge ruled on Friday that HTC infringed on two of Apple’s patents, which appear to be part of the core Android operating system. HTC is appealing the decision to the full commission, which will rule in December. But the case has added more pressure on Google’s Android platform, which is also being pursued by Oracle and Microsoft. Schmidt, for his part, said all the hubbub is built off of jealousy.

“We have seen an explosion of Android devices entering the market and, because of our successes, competitors are responding with lawsuits as they cannot respond through innovations,” he said. “I’m not too worried about this.”

When asked about delivering help to HTC and possibly paying bills should HTC lose, Schmidt pledged general support for its partner and added: “We will make sure they don’t lose, then.”

It’s not surprising that Schmidt is dismissing concerns around Android though some might take issue with the claim that competitors such as Apple aren’t innovating. But there are growing worries about how much it will cost Android manufacturers to use the freely licensed operating system once all the different cases get resolved. Microsoft has struck licensing deals with a handful of Android manufacturers including HTC, while Oracle is suing Google and may be looking for a big settlement from Google or its hardware partners. And Apple may not be looking for royalties at all from HTC, Motorola and others, but might be content to ban Android products or force costly workarounds. Google recently also lost out on a big treasure trove of 6,000 Nortel patents, which could have helped with cross-licensing deals but were instead snatched up by a consortium led by Apple, Microsoft and Research in Motion.

Android’s legal issues are reportedly prompting some Asian manufacturers to reassess their mobile platform options. According to the 21st Century Business Herald, Chinese hardware makers ZTE and Huawei are looking more at strategies that include enhancing support for Windows Phone 7 to protect themselves from Android’s alleged patent infringements. There’s also some interest in MeeGo as another alternative. I doubt anyone’s abandoning Android at this point but it suggests that at least some manufacturers are using these recent developments as an opportunity to re-examine their platform bets.

It’s still early in the game and Google hasn’t done much to articulate how it plans to fight on behalf of Android. But I would expect it would ramp up its efforts to maintain its Android success story. For Google, it’s important for the company to gain big market share with Android because it helps it sell ads while obtaining valuable data from mobile users. So I expect we’ll see more actions to follow up Schmidt’s words. If the legal issues continue to mount, Google won’t have any choice but to get involved.

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