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Google complains of patent attacks upon Android from Apple, Microsoft

Google's chief legal officer has posted a public blog entry complaining that Apple, Microsoft, Oracle and others are waging an "organized campaign" against its Android operating system "waged through bogus patents."

The complaint, entitled "When patents attack Android," accuses Apple and Microsoft of "banding together to acquire Novell’s old patents to make sure Google didn’t get them."

It also describes the $15 per phone patent royalties that Android licensee HTC agreed to pay Microsoft as a conspiracy to "make it more expensive for phone manufacturers to license Android (which we provide free of charge) than Windows Mobile."

"Patents were meant to encourage innovation, but lately they are being used as a weapon to stop it," Drummond wrote.

Unbridled hypocrisy

Back in April, Google's general counsel Kent Walker wrote his own public blog entry about patents and innovation, noting an "explosion in patent litigation" while explaining that his company had "decided to bid for Nortel’s patent portfolio in the company’s bankruptcy auction."

Walker also announced, "Nortel selected our bid as the 'stalking-horse bid,' which is the starting point against which others will bid prior to the auction." Google had bid $900 million for the broad portfolio of network-related patents.

However, Google's bid lost, resulting in the patents being won by many of its rivals, including Apple, Microsoft and RIM. After losing the patent auction, Walker noted that "a patent isn’t innovation. It’s the right to block someone else from innovating."

"Patents are government-granted monopolies," Walker further complained, which is the actual definition of a patent. Google has subsequently acquired 1,000 IBM patents, ostensibly with the goal of earning the right to block someone else from innovating.

Google's description of Apple and Microsoft as patent-wielding co-conspirators against Android is remarkable given that Apple itself has become the most popular target of patent trolls while Microsoft has paid out vast million dollar settlements to license patented concepts related to the products it makes.

Unlike Apple, Google has not waged patent defenses in the smartphone arena itself, neither in paying millions to license patented IP for its platform (as Apple recently did with Nokia), nor in directly working to overturn the validity of dubious patent claims (as Apple has repeatedly sought to do, often successfully).

Patents could thwart Google's copying right and left

On the other hand, Google has routinely dodged the issues of intellectual property, initially founding its business upon the infringement of the patented technology of rival Overture (which it eventually paid off through an all-stock settlement with Yahoo after that company's acquisition of Overture).

The search giant subsequently acquired Android, a licensee of Oracle's Java platform, and made enough changes to the mobile platform to claim no need to any longer pay Oracle's licensing fees.

It then backed out of its close partnership with Apple to position Android as an iPhone alternative, while making conflicting comments about whether Android infringed upon Apple's iPhone patents, including multitouch interface gestures that were initially left out, then later folded into the Android platform wholesale.

Android licensees, many of whom were also Windows Mobile licensees, have individually reached licensing deals with Microsoft that cover patents that company owns in the smartphone space, resulting in more external operating expense than Google originally represented for its ostensibly free Android platform.

Google's efforts to closely duplicate the business of, for example, Facebook and Twitter in social networking and OpenX in display advertising indicate that Google's definition of "innovation" is often just an attempt to copy others, an effort that has similarly been promoted by its Android licensees, prompting lawsuits such as Apple's against Samsung that claim "slavish" efforts to steal everything from the box design to the design of the hardware and software elements.

Android also facing other assaults

Drummond further complained that "our competitors want to impose a 'tax' for these dubious patents that makes Android devices more expensive for consumers," while also suggesting that the government would likely intervene on its behalf, while also suggesting that the purported overpayment of patents beyond their actual value would eventually result in a bursting of the "patent bubble."

If the patent problem doesn't solve itself, "consumers could face rising costs for Android devices — and fewer choices for their next phone," Drummond warned.

While Android faces new costs related to patent infringement, it has also proven unable to generate profits compatible to Apple's iPhone business for its own licensees.

Despite being nearly free to implement, primary Android licensees ranging from LG to Motorola to Sony Ericsson have failed to make substantial money on the platform, with all three posting losses in the last quarter.

Samsung and HTC, while selling about as many phones combined as Apple in the last quarter, still failed to generate more than a small fraction of Apple's profits, despite their heavy borrowing from Apple's research and development and marketing to sell their own products.