There comes a time in every great invention’s life where it has to defend itself against those who would falsely claim to have created it come hunting. Thus is the word coming out of the Google offices today via David Drummond, Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer for Google. He speaks harshly of both Apple and Microsoft in the following manner: “a hostile, organized campaign against Android by Microsoft, Oracle, Apple and other companies, waged through bogus patents.” Is there any salt to Drummond’s claims? He continues to drum up some rather scary factoids in his release today, not all of them simple conjecture.
What Drummond is saying is that Microsoft and Apple are joining together in a quest to stop the advancement of Android through the clever purchasing and utilizing of patents from several camps. The first claim reads thusly: in acquiring Novell’s patent collection (the CPTN group which includes Microsoft and Apple, that is,) and Nortel’s patent collection (again through a group including Apple and Microsoft), they “made sure Google didn’t get them” and started seeking $15 licensing fees from every Samsung / Android device produced, thusly attempting to make the cost of creating Android-toting devices more than, say, all of their competitors.
Businesses like Winstron, Onkyo, Velocity Micro, General Dynamics Itronix, and HTC have signed agreements with Microsoft to pay listening fees for each Android device sold while Barnes & Noble, Motorola, and Samsung have been sued to continue adding to these ranks. Drummond notes that a single smartphone might involve as many as 250,000 of what he calls “largely questionable” patent claims, where Google’s competitors, Drummond continues, “competitors want to impose a “tax” for these dubious patents that makes Android devices more expensive for consumers.”
What this means, if what Drummond says is true, is that instead of creating new devices with innovative features to compete with Google, its competitors are fighting through litigation. Drummond continues by noting that this “anti-competitive” strategy is taking the cost of patents and driving it WAY beyond what they’re “really worth.” For example the Notel patent portfolio recently sold for nearly five times what it was estimated at pre-auction: $1 billion to $4.5 billion at the hammer fall. Drummond notes though that “the law frowns on the accumulation of dubious patents for anti-competitive means” and that therefore as these purchases of patents and suing of manufacturers is likely to draw regulatory scrutiny and this “patent bubble” will pop.
Drummond concludes his public statement with the following:
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.
We’re looking intensely at a number of ways to do that. We’re 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. 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.
What do you think? Does Google have a point, or are those with the patents the ones who have the right to get the patent cash?