Google's Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer David Drummond is accusing Apple, Microsoft, Oracle and other companies of waging a unified war against Android. How? By working together and purchasing patents left and right in order to keep Google from getting patents "that would help balance the scales."
Put it this way: the more patents Microsoft, Oracle and even Apple purchase, the riskier it will become to use the Android OS. As Drummond points out in his blog on Wednesday, a single smartphone may involve nearly 250,000 patent claims. Now imagine Android's competitors owning a good number of those patents, enforcing a costly "tax" on each so that manufacturers deem it too costly and end up purchasing Windows Phone 7 or some other OS instead of Google's free, open-source mobile platform.
"They’re doing this by banding together to acquire Novell’s old patents (the “CPTN” group including Microsoft and Apple) and Nortel’s old patents (the “Rockstar” group including Microsoft and Apple), to make sure Google didn’t get them," he writes. "Seeking $15 licensing fees for every Android device; attempting to make it more expensive for phone manufacturers to license Android (which we provide free of charge) than Windows Phone 7; and even suing Barnes & Noble, HTC, Motorola, and Samsung. Patents were meant to encourage innovation, but lately they are being used as a weapon to stop it."
The whole situation is apparently driving the cost of patents "way beyond what they're worth." Drummond reports that the winning $4.5 billion for Nortel’s patent portfolio was nearly five times larger than the pre-auction estimate of $1 billion. But he expects the patent hoarding to draw regulatory scrutiny and perhaps be seen as anti-competitive in nature.
"This patent bubble will pop," he said. "We’re not naive; technology is a tough and ever-changing industry and we work very hard to stay focused on our own business and make better products. But in this instance we thought it was important to speak out and make it clear that we’re determined to preserve Android as a competitive choice for consumers, by stopping those who are trying to strangle it."
So how's a search engine to defend itself against deep-pocketed corporations like Apple and Microsoft? By strengthening its own patent portfolio before they're all scooped up. "We’re [also] encouraged that the Department of Justice forced the group I mentioned earlier to license the former Novell patents on fair terms, and that it’s looking into whether Microsoft and Apple acquired the Nortel patents for anti-competitive means," he added.
Later Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith denied the allegations in regards to Novell's patent portfolio, saying that the company asked Google to participate in the bid. "Google says we bought Novell patents to keep them from Google," Smith said in a message on Twitter. "Really? We asked them to bid jointly with us. They said no.”
Naturally Drummond responded.
"It's not surprising that Microsoft would want to divert attention by pushing a false "gotcha!" while failing to address the substance of the issues we raised," he said. "If you think about it, it's obvious why we turned down Microsoft’s offer. Microsoft's objective has been to keep from Google and Android device-makers any patents that might be used to defend against their attacks. A joint acquisition of the Novell patents that gave all parties a license would have eliminated any protection these patents could offer to Android against attacks from Microsoft and its bidding partners. Making sure that we would be unable to assert these patents to defend Android — and having us pay for the privilege — must have seemed like an ingenious strategy to them. We didn't fall for it. "
So far Apple, Microsoft and Oracle have declined to comment.