After keeping silent for a long time, Google has finally spoken out against Microsoft, Oracle and Apple for their “organized campaign” to dampen the growth of Android ecosystem by accumulating and suing over “bogus patent.”
In a blog post, the company’s chief legal officer challenged them to compete with Android in the open market-place, instead of attacking those who make Android phones using “dubious” patent claims.
Google, which has its mantra in ‘Do No Evil’ and has largely adhered to that corporate philosophy, said it is being forced to comment on the events of the last few months after seeing the alarming lengths to which its competitors like Microsoft and Apple are ready to go to defeat Android.
“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,” said the Mountain View, California based company’s chief legal officer David Drummond.
Echoing what many others have been complaining about, he said that such irrational chasing of patents, apparently with the intention of suing those who make Android phones, is creating a patent bubble that will end badly. He pointed out that the regulator is already taking notice of the unhealthy trend.
“This anti-competitive strategy is also escalating the cost of patents way beyond what they’re really worth. The winning $4.5 billion for Nortel’s patent portfolio was nearly five times larger than the pre-auction estimate of $1 billion. Fortunately, the law frowns on the accumulation of dubious patents for anti-competitive means — which means these deals are likely to draw regulatory scrutiny, and this patent bubble will pop,” he pointed out.
He pointed out that if everyone started suing over patents, it would be nearly impossible to make smartphones.
“A smartphone might involve as many as 250,000 (largely questionable) patent claims, and our competitors want to impose a “tax” for these dubious patents that makes Android devices more expensive for consumers. 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,” he said.
Drummond explained how Google perceives the action of Microsoft, Apple and Oracle who have been acquiring patents with possible litigious value against Andoid from companies such as Nortel and Novell.
“Android is on fire. More than 550,000 Android devices are activated every day, through a network of 39 manufacturers and 231 carriers. Android and other platforms are competing hard against each other, and that’s yielding cool new devices and amazing mobile apps for consumers.
“But Android’s success has yielded something else: a hostile, organized campaign against Android by Microsoft, Oracle, Apple and other companies, waged through bogus patents.
“They’re doing this by banding together to acquire Novell’s old patents (the “CPTN” group including Microsoft and Apple) and Nortel’s old patents (the “Rockstar” group including Microsoft and Apple), to make sure Google didn’t get them; seeking $15 licensing fees for every Android device; attempting to make it more expensive for phone manufacturers to license Android (which we provide free of charge) than Windows Phone 7; and even suing Barnes & Noble, HTC, Motorola, and Samsung.
“Patents were meant to encourage innovation, but lately they are being used as a weapon to stop it,” he said.
He also said that Google, which recently acquired a bunch of patents from IBM relevant to the server market, is intent on countering this trend.
“We’re looking intensely at a number of ways to do that. We’re encouraged that the Department of Justice forced the group I mentioned earlier to license the former Novell patents on fair terms, and that it’s looking into whether Microsoft and Apple acquired the Nortel patents for anti-competitive means.
“We’re also looking at other ways to reduce the anti-competitive threats against Android by strengthening our own patent portfolio. Unless we act, consumers could face rising costs for Android devices — and fewer choices for their next phone,” the CLO said in an official blog posting.
Patents are rights of exclusivity given to an inventor in return for ‘complete disclosure’ of his invention. In other words, if an investor does not hide his technology from the public and is willing to explain it, the law will ensure that he gets his due by preventing others from using the technology for a fixed period, usually twenty years.
The patent system arose as a result of the tendency by inventors to hide their secrets and make as much money as possible. It was believed that such secrecy is detrimental to the advancement of science and it would be better to guarantee exclusive rights over the commercial use of the invention in return for total disclosure.
However, some patent generals have been overzealous in granting patents, with the result that things that could never have been kept a secret, such as the overall external design of a smartphone, were also granted patents. As a result, once someone gets a patent over ‘full glass-front phone with no buttons’, it was difficult for anyone else to make a phone which too had a full glass panel and no buttons on the front.
As a result, instead of encouraging innovation and growth, many patents are now used by their owners as tools to extort money and are alleged to have a stunting effect on growth.