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German court's ruling may pose long-term concerns over Android

One expert argues Google needs to close-source Android

August 9, 2011 05:41 PM ET

Computerworld - A German court's ruling on Monday that bars distribution of Samsung's Android-based Galaxy Tab 10.1 in most of Europe shocked many and raised some long-term licensing worries for Android globally, some believe.

Samsung is expected to appeal a preliminary injunction in Germany over what Apple calls a design infringement -- an imitation -- of its iPad by the Galaxy Tab. Samsung and other Android device makers face patent and design infringement lawsuits from Apple in the U.S., Australia, the Netherlands and elsewhere.

It's unclear whether Apple will eventually win its battle in the courts to ban sales of competing tablets and smartphones or settle with some Android makers, such as Samsung or HTC, and grant them design or patent licenses, which could raise the cost of their products.

Some analysts fear that the fallout over the Android intellectual property legal wrangling will have a chilling effect on thousands of Android developers, many of whom want to build apps that run on the most popular platforms and that bring in the biggest profit.

But the results of this case and others like it could mean that Google will have to license the Android mobile operating system in ways that better protect it from legal attacks, such as making it closed-source software subject to license fees rather than open source, said Florian Mueller, an intellectual property expert.

"Samsung will continue to fight Apple around the globe," said Mueller via email. "This is a serious blow to Samsung in a huge market. ... It will give Android device makers as well as developers pause." Mueller, however, expects Samsung to announce its intent to appeal the German decision soon, possibly as soon as Wednesday.

Mueller, who writes a blog mainly on Android patent disputes, has long urged Google to do more to legally protect Android device makers and developers. The German case relates only to a specific design right that Apple won in Europe, not to all Android products, Mueller noted. Still, the attacks on Android in lawsuits in other countries raise problems for Android overall, he said.

In the U.S., Apple sued Samsung in U.S. District Court for Northern California in April for allegedly copying features of Apple's iPad, iPod Touch and iPhones in its Galaxy smartphone and Galaxy Tab. Samsung countersued Apple a few days later, claiming infringement of Samsung's intellectual property.

On Tuesday, Mueller blogged that RBC Capital analyst Mike Abramsky had predicted that Android makers and Apple may reach settlements over their disputes in Europe and the U.S.

Why would Apple agree to settle? So it can win bargaining points for more favorable (to Apple) licensing agreements with Android makers in large markets, such as China. In China, intellectual property rights are considered less rigorous than in the U.S., making it harder for Apple to win an intellectual property rights lawsuit there, according to Abramsky's theory.

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