Smartphone Buyers Will End Up the Biggest Losers

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2011-07-11 Print this article Print


But of course, that's the goal of the Rockstar group. It's not really about intellectual property; it's about the legal equivalent of nuclear weapons. This consortium wants to totally destroy Android. The reason? Android made the unforgivable mistake of selling more phones overall than Apple or RIM. Of course, Microsoft is also worried about Android devices massively outselling Windows Phone 7.

Normally, companies duke this sort of thing out in the marketplace, but the phone market moves so fast that maybe these companies are worried that normal market forces won't work. Or maybe they're worried that market forces actually will work, which would keep the Android world on its current path to dominance. Thus, the decision to beat Google in the courts when Android is proving difficult to beat in the marketplace.

Now, back to why this may sound familiar. Patent wars like this have happened before. The first one I remember (although I may not remember them all) was when a company named Ashton-Tate sued everyone it could find over alleged violations concerning its database, dBASE and its related programming language. The result was that lawsuits were spread across the land so thickly that little else was accomplished. In Ashton-Tate's case, the company was so engaged in lawsuits that it failed to innovate, and eventually went out of business.

While it's unlikely that any of the participants in the Android v. Everybody lawsuits will go out of business, these legal actions are bad for everyone involved, but mostly they're bad for you. This sort of thing will raise the price of phones. If Android developers find the lawsuits are making it more difficult for them to make a living, they will move to other platforms, which will hurt the Android ecosystem. The companies suing Google and the Android phone makers will likely find that they're also being hurt by the constant legal ebb and flow as injunctions are filed, fought, approved or denied, and appealed. The phone makers will probably continue to exist, but it's not clear that innovation will fare well in such an environment.

And of course, the smartphone buying public will lose no matter who ultimately wins. If Android dies, one source of innovation will die with it. Even if Android wins, it will still likely find itself significantly diminished in the markets. If everybody settles as has been the case so far, you'll find yourself paying more for phones because when the Android phones are more expensive, everyone else can charge more also. You as the consumer are going to lose regardless of who, if anyone, wins.

Editor's Note: This story had been corrected to state that Microsoft did not actually sue HTC to obtain patent licensing payments nor has it joined Apple in suing Samsung.

Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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