updated 04:00 pm EDT, Wed August 3, 2011
Claims 'hostile' campaign against Android
Google senior VP and chief legal officer David Drummond has published an open letter criticizing the rush on patents in the mobile industry. "Android is on fire," he writes. "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."
Drummond refers specifically to the consortiums that were formed to buy patents from Novell and Nortel; in both cases, Apple and Microsoft were prominent members. The goal was to "make sure Google didn't get them [the patents]," the letter alleges. Drummond also complains about things like Microsoft demanding that companies like Samsung pay licensing fees for Android phones.
"Patents were meant to encourage innovation, but lately they are being used as a weapon to stop it," the VP continues. "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.
"This anti-competitive strategy is also escalating the cost of patents way beyond what they're really worth. Microsoft and Apple's 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."
Drummond says Google is "encouraged" that the Department of Justice forced a change in the terms of the Novell deal, and investigating whether Apple and Microsoft bought the Nortel patents for anti-competitive reasons. "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 letter concludes. Recently it was revealed that Google acquired 1,030 IBM patents in July.