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Google lashes out at patent rivals, pledges to defend Android

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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.

16 Responses to “Google lashes out at patent rivals, pledges to defend Android”

  1. Valuing Groupon more highly than Nortel’s patents still speaks more to how much Google is willing to fight than a cranky, empty, hypocritical blog post, no?

  2. Personally, I don’t believe the patent system is working the way it was intended. That said, Google has two options, work within the system as everyone else is doing… play the game the same way -or- they need to actively work towards changing the system. Maybe this blog entry is the first step in that direction, but at first look, it just sounds like whining because they aren’t getting their way. I hope I’m wrong and Google is ready to push the patent issue to the next level.

    • LOL! The irony in your statement would be delicious, if it was not pathetically stupid. You talk as if Apple and Facebook did not copy a majority of their main product/service features from their predecessors. Screw your idiocy!

      • The problem is that Lodsys already got paid up when Google and Apple both licensed its patents, but Lodsys somehow believes it can double dip by going after developers for utilizing Apple’s and Google’s implementation of that patent.

        But tell me, if Goofle thinks patents are so bogus, why did they bid $4 billion to try to acquire then?

        If Google TRULY believes that they didn’t rip off Apple, Microsoft, or Nokia patents, then why does it act like it needs to acquire patents to defend Android? If Google is innocent, it would be far cheaper to spend $100 million on lawyers like they did with Viacom than spend billions to acquire “bogus” patents.

        By the way, I missed the part where Google said it was going to open source its search patents because Google’s search dominance was stifling innovation in the search space

        Evil wussy hypocrites, that’s what Google is showing itself to be.

      • @Lava,

        You wrote: “But tell me, if Goofle thinks patents are so bogus, why did they bid $4 billion to try to acquire then?”

        Your question does not make sense. It is like asking a peaceful and non-violent person who lives in a dangerous neighborhood: “if you are so peaceful and non-violent, why did you buy a gun”? The answer would be obvious to you if you were not blinded by your prejudice: for personal safety.

        At least in the case of a bad neighborhood, the person has the option of moving to a better neighborhood. Google does not have the option of moving anywhere in this situation.

        You wrote: “I missed the part where Google said it was going to open source its search patents because Google’s search dominance was stifling innovation in the search space”.

        I missed the part where Google asked everybody to open source their patents. I missed the part where Google is suing any other search engine for offering functionality very similar to the Google search engine. What a strawman argument you make that totally sidesteps the real issue, which is a bad, broken patent system.

        To go with your search example, just for argument’s sake, the patent system as it exists today would have awarded Google a patent for the ‘Search’ button or for displaying search results even while you type the search terms before pressing the button. As a result, Google could sue any other search provider who used a search button or displayed results before the button is pressed. Note that in either case, it doesn’t matter whether the technology underlying the competitors search button or instant results is totally different from Google’s technology. The current patent system is so broken, it allows patenting of silly things like the search button so that every other search engine would be infringing on this patent. This is the real issue. I hope you and other esteemed Gigaom readers can open their prejudicial blinders and talk about the real issue at hand, instead of making bogus arguments.

    • PXLated does a great job of changing the whole topic of the conversation. The topic is NOT whether Google infringed on any patents. Google themselves admit that a typical smartphone could infringe as many as 250,000 patents. Even if you built a smartphone from scratch, in total isolation, without knowing or hearing about a single existing patent, you would still infringe on hundreds of thousands of existing patents. That is the problem here.

      Imagine a world where somebody patented a mouse’s double-click action, so that every mouse manufacturer or OS manufacturer had to either pay a license to the patent holder in order to allow double-click or some up with some other action equivalent of double-click. Imagine a world where somebody patented the sequence of pedals in a car – clutch, brake, accelerator, so that every automobile manufacturer has to pay license in order to implement the pedals in that order. This is the state of the high technology patents today.

      It is easy to make simplified statements like: you wouldn’t have this problem if you respected IP. It is impossible to actually ‘respect’ a system that is totally broken. What you ask is the equivalent of asking somebody to design and build a totally new car without ‘copying’ a single design from existing cars. Your argument is totally invalid.

  3. This is laughable. Google Android is riding on the backs of inventors and innovators like Apple and Oracle and now is faced with having to pay for what they’ve appropriated and given away for free. Cry me a river …

      • And? Did they legally purchase it from its true inventors? Do they continue to develop and support the technology? Oracle’s patent case may not be superb, they may be motivated by $$$$, but they aren’t exactly an empty office in East Texas either.