News Analysis: Google is very concerned about the state of mobile patents today, and for good reason.
When it comes to the mobile market, much of the attention surrounds the recent success of Android and the ongoing popularity of Apple's iOS. There are good reasons for this. Both platforms are running on outstanding devices, and the vast majority of consumers around the globe see them as worthwhile alternatives to anything else on the market. And yet, behind all the success that those platforms are enjoying, there are a slew of patent lawsuits being waged by both big and small companies, all in the hope of taking a bigger slice of a market that could generate many more billions of dollars in the coming years.
In many of those lawsuits, especially those involving Oracle, Microsoft, Barnes & Noble, and Apple, Android is the target. According to the plaintiffs, Google's Android operating system is infringing patents they hold, and the companies want to either collect a licensing fee on that or stop the sale of the products altogether.
For its part, Google has complained about all that litigation, saying that it does little else but stifle innovation in the marketplace and hurt consumers. And yet, the company has been acquiring patents all over the place
. In the summer, Google shelled out more than $12 billion to buy Motorola Mobility
in an effort to shore up its patent portfolio.
In addition, Google acquired more than a 1,000 IBM patents in July. Then, on Sept. 15, Google confirmed it purchased another trove of patents from Big Blue.
All that action seems to indicate quite clearly that Google is extremely worried about patents.
Google is worried with good reason. Here are some reasons this story is worth following:
1. Its patent portfolio falls short
The biggest issue with Google right now is that its patent portfolio is simply not as strong as the competition's holdings. That's precisely why Google has been so outspoken about the litigation going on in the marketplace, and why it has acquired so many patents from IBM. If Google had a stronger patent portfolio, its attitudes would be much different.
2. Litigation is everywhere
The last thing Google wants is to get hit with more lawsuits. Currently, the company is embroiled in a lawsuit against Oracle. And its operating system, Android, is being hit from all sides by Microsoft, Apple and others. Litigation is simply everywhere right now
, and Google, with its aforementioned sub-par patent portfolio, isn't too happy about that.
3. Android is under attack
The odd thing about Google's issues with patent litigation is that, for the most part, it's not the subject of many of the lawsuits. As mentioned, only Oracle is really taking aim at Google; all the others are targeting Android. However, if Apple continues to win cases in Europe, it might just use those victories as precedents to go after Google itself. In other words, Android's defense is holding up for now, but over the next several months and years, all that can change. And that makes Google nervous.
4. It's a matter of survival
Although arguments can be made that patent litigation isn't good for anyone-companies or consumers-it's a reality. And depending on how a court decides, it can have a profound impact on the mobile space. Make no mistake, there is a lot riding on the patent cases currently being waged. If Google and its Android vendors lose, there's no telling what the future might look like for the operating system. At this point, holding strong against these cases is a matter of survival for Google.