Google exec attacks 'hostile' patent campaign against Android

Chief legal officer says firm will respond to challenges from firms that 'band together' to buy patents

Google's chief legal officer Wednesday issued a stinging rebuke of what he called "bogus patent" attacks on the Android operating system by major competitors like Apple, Oracle and Microsoft.

"Android's success has yielded ... a hostile, organized campaign against Android by Microsoft, Oracle, Apple and other companies, waged through bogus patents," wrote David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, in a blog post on the company's Web site.

Drummond bristled about moves by major firms to "band together" to acquire patents held by struggling firms, citing a successful $4.5 billion bid by Microsoft, Apple and others in June to acquire 600 patents from Nortel.

He suggested Microsoft and Apple may contend that Android infringes on these "dubious" patents, forcing Google to pay damages or license fees that would raise the costs of smartphones.

"Patents were meant to encourage innovation, but lately they are being used as a weapon to stop it," Drummond wrote. "Instead of competing by building new features or device, [competitors] are fighting through litigation."

Florian Mueller, an observer who has posted blogs about numerous Android patent disputes, has criticized Google for not rising to the defense of Android and its large, global group of independent developers.

Mueller told Computerworld via email that Drummond's response today "reflects profound concern on Google's part over the patent situation surrounding Android."

But Mueller added that he disagreed with Drummond over how organized the anti-Android campaign is. "As an observer of those disputes, I actually don't see any indications of an 'organized, hostile campaign' going on," Mueller said.

He said the companies attacking Android are doing business as usual and that Microsoft had begun buying up patent licenses "years before Android" appeared.

Mueller added that Oracle's patent disputes over Android stem from wanting to monetize Java and "show to the world who controls that platform."

As of May, Mueller said he had counted more than 40 patent infringement lawsuits mostly over Android.

Many companies such as Samsung are buying up pools of patent licenses related to smartphone software just to be able to grab a piece of ownership of the intellectual property included in devices such as smartphones, he added.

Drummond noted that a smartphone is highly complex computer and radio technology that could generate as many as 250,000 patent claims by opponents, claims that he said would likely be "largely questionable."

The patent claims can lead to increased licensing fees that end up like a tax that makes Android device more expensive for consumers, Drummond said.

Drummond said Google is determined to fight patent claims, though he didn't say how. "We're determined to preserve Android as a competitive choice for consumers, by stopping those who are trying to strangle it," he wrote.

Google is "looking into whether Microsoft and Apple acquired the Nortel patents for anti-competitive means," he added.

Google also plans to strengthen its own patent portfolio, Drummond said, presumably by buying licenses from collectives such as Intellectual Ventures.

The company must act or consumers "could face rising costs for Android devices--and fewer choices for their next phone," Drummond said.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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