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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that Google (s goog) had passed on an opportunity to signal a stronger defense of Android during its earnings call. Today, Google reiterated its commitment to defend Android and let loose a broadside attack against competitors who are targeting the operating system with “bogus” patent suits.
Google’s David Drummond, Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer wrote in a blog post that competitors like Oracle (s orcl), Apple (s aapl) and Microsoft (s msft) are engaged in a “hostile, organized campaign against Android” using “bogus patents.” He cited the recent $4.5 billion purchase of Nortel’s old patents by Apple, Microsoft, RIM (s rimm) and others as a coordinated, anti-competitive attempt to deny Google those patents and drive up the cost of competition.
“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,” said Drummond.
But he warned that this kind of strategy of overpaying for patents will draw the scrutiny of regulators. The Nortel bid can still be undone by action from the Department of Justice. Ultimately, Drummond predicted this patent “bubble” will burst. In the meantime, Drummond said Google is also looking at strengthening its patent portfolio, which could get a boost if Google manages to acquire patents from InterDigital, something Apple and Samsung are also reportedly pursuing. Drummond spells out the company’s strategy as follows:
We’re not naive; technology is a tough and ever-changing industry and we work very hard to stay focused on our own business and make better products. But in this instance we thought it was important to speak out and make it clear that we’re determined to preserve Android as a competitive choice for consumers, by stopping those who are trying to strangle it.
It’s the loudest attack on the current state of patent affairs yet from Google, and yet it shows that the company is still forced to play by the current rules if it wants to fully defend Android. But it’s a good sign for Android partners that Google is committed to defending the platform, though again, it’s unclear how much the company is willing to spend. Google CEO Larry Page said during the latest earnings call that Google is committed to Android and “We will support it in a cost-effective manner.”
If acquiring patents becomes a multi-billion dollar affair each time Google is faced with determined competitors, it could be very pricey, especially when Apple, Oracle (S ORCL) and others know just how much the IP means to Google. Winning over regulators looks to be a better proposition for Google, if it can acquire some fair terms for licensing the Nortel patents.
Make no mistake this is a war, and Google has to bring out every thing it’s got. It doesn’t have much in the way of patent weapons, but at least it’s signaling how hard it’s planning on fighting. Now, we have to see what kind of actions Google takes to back up its words.