Google’s Apparent Patent Swing and a Miss
Maybe Google’s SVP and Chief Legal Officer David Drummond should have done a little more homework before he accused some big names of playing patent pranks on the search company. Here’s the gist of his claim from the Google blog
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.
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; 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.
OK, so Google feels like it’s getting unfairly beat up in this process. It’s not like they don’t play this game themselves with the recent purchase of patents from IBM. Drummond’s claim, however, goes into an area where he says the competition has done some shady stuff which will result in some regulatory scrutiny.
This anti-competitive strategy is also escalating the cost of patents way beyond what they’re really worth. The 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.
So Google cries foul. Why not I suppose? Everyone seems to be taking shots at them these days.
Trouble is that the following salvo has been fired back by Microsoft. Rather than go the full blown blog post route, however, Microsoft decided to microblog instead. The following two tweets show just how powerful 140 characters or less can be. Or, in other words, speak softly and carry a big tweet.
First from Microsoft’s general counsel, Brad Smith.
Next from Frank X. Shaw who leads corporate communications for Microsoft
The URL in that tweet is an e-mail from Kent Walker, Google’s very own SVP and general counsel. It’s a bit hard to read but it essentially tells the story that Google turned down the opportunity to bid jointly with Microsoft.
Now, to be fair, the e-mail doesn’t mention the Novell patents so, in fine lawyer fashion, Walker said something without saying something. Gotta figure though that Smith and Shaw checked in with each other and decided they could throw a haymaker at Google on this one.
So what’s the net / net here? Google looks whiny and ill prepared. Microsoft, Apple and Oracle look like they are doing what others do in business but could very well feel the sting of a regulatory investigation into anti-competitive claims. In this current political environment it looks like no one is safe from that possibility at any time for any reason.
In the court of public opinion, however, it looks like Google is out in the cold here. If you were asked to go play with someone, say no to the offer, then complain that the someone still played without you, you look bad.
Oh and the extra cost of each Android device? Why don’t you just eat it Google? You have the cash.