Summary: Yet another call for Google to fight against the Great Patents Cartel rather than find ways of joining this exclusionary club
IN A NEW article by Dr. Glyn Moody exists a rather eloquent explanation of why Google should quit trying to play with patents and instead just put an end to software patents, despite the advice it receives from its self-serving patent lawyers. Moody explains that “Android is under serious threat”. But as he immediately points out, “Techdirt’s handy diagram illustrates, practically everyone in the smartphone space is suing everyone else. But the big difference is how the others are addressing this.
“Some are cutting deals among themselves, such as the recent, if still rather mysterious, one between Nokia and Apple. Others, with less in the way to offer in exchange, are simply coughing up licensing fees. Worryingly, that includes an increasing number of Android manufacturers.”
The summary of this which appears in Slashdot says:
“When challenged directly by Oracle over Android intellectual property, Google has proven itself a feisty opponent. So why is it sitting back and letting Microsoft shake down OEMs over its claims to own patents that Android infringes? A disheartened Tom Henderson thinks it’s because Microsoft has been smart to go after the vendors rather than poke at Google directly. Still, he wonders when Google will get into the fight.”
Can we be persuasive enough, even to the point where the PR factor will compel Google to join campaigns such as “End Software Patents”?
The problem is not just Microsoft but also Apple, which now files a second trade complaint against HTC after starting the patent assault on Android/Linux last year (see our Apple vs HTC resource)). To quote one particular report on the subject:
Apple has ratcheted up its attack on Taiwanese smartphone manufacturer HTC, filing a second patent-infringement complaint that, if successful, could bar HTC products from being imported into the US.
The complaint was filed with US International Trade Commission (USITC) on Friday, Bloomberg reports, and was revealed in a brief notice on the USITC website.
I some cases, Apple and Google are both targeted at the same time by patent trolls. To use a similar new scenario (more in Bloomberg about software patents used in reverse), sometimes Microsoft and Google share this pain too. What’s more interesting though is the increased collusion among Apple and Microsoft, which sometimes even congratulate one another on patent strategy, having cross-licensed for a long time, then taken Novell’s patents, and most recently taken Nortel’s patent although that is currently being challenged by federal investigation, as we noted twice before (in the US and also Canada).
“Outgunned Google accuses rivals of ganging up,” says the headline from The Independent (British newspaper), noting that:
The answer, as every patent litigator in the US knows, is Google. It is the only one not in the consortium buying a portfolio of thousands of technology patents from the bankrupt Canadian firm Nortel Networks.
The winning consortium comprised the three big operating systems firms plus Sony and Ericsson, handset makers, and EMC, a data storage firm. It called itself Rockstar Bidco, though it might as well have called itself Everyone But Google Inc.
Android may be winning more ground than any other type of smartphone in the battle for consumer loyalty, but on a parallel legal battleground, Google just found itself surrounded by heavy artillery. The outcome of the auction represents the largest competitive threat to Android since its 2008 launch and threatens to derail its sensational growth.
This is the sort of thing that would happen to desktop GNU/Linux too as it grows bigger (Google has just released statistics showing a growth of 15% year-to-year). Not only “commercial” distributors like Canonical are affected. Based on this new move from Debian, such a decentralised project too is concerned and as the British press puts it, “[t]he Debian Project, which is best known for the Debian Linux distribution, has served up the Community Distribution Patent Policy FAQ, a document that tries to explain patents and patent liabilities in plain English for developers working on FOSS projects. The information was prepared by lawyers at the Software Freedom Law Center and it applies to US patent law.”
Of course, many Debian developers are based outside the US, so these ludicrous laws do not apply to them, except when they distribute their software in the US (which is a large market overall). We really need to eradicate this problem at the root and without support from a billionaire company like Google it would be hard to abolish software patents. Intel and IBM are a lost cause in this regard because, although they support Linux for parts of the business, they actively lobby for software patents and they haven’t as much to lose from them as Google has. Google’s door is therefore the right one to knock on. But it’s important to be diplomatic and polite about it. █