Is Google Gunning for the Right Patents vs. Apple, Microsoft?
Google has acquired some patents from IBM that don't seem to protect the search engine from Android lawsuits. That is, until you dig more deeply, according to IP experts.With the number of lawsuits versus Google's Android operating system approaching the number of cards in a deck of playing cards, it's no wonder the search engine is trying to acquire patents related to mobile phone and wireless network software.
A good question to ask is: Is Google doing enough? Microsoft, Apple and others in the so-called Rockstar Bidco consortium outgunned Google for Nortel Networks' 6,000-plus wireless LTE (Long-Term Evolution) and various other patents in June. The companies spent $4.5 billion total in that not-so-playful game of keepaway from Google.
Intellectual property expert Florian Mueller, who as part of his tireless coverage of Android lawsuits has counted no less than 46 lawsuits targeting Android, also offered some suggestions as to why Google is showing a broad patent appetite. "In order to enter into cross-license agreements that can help to protect Android, Google would need patents that are relevant to such companies as Apple, Microsoft and Oracle," Mueller told eWEEK. "The types of patents Google bought from IBM looked to me like possible ammunition for a countersuit against -- or licensing negotiation with -- Oracle." For example, Oracle is the leading database software maker and now Google has key relational database software patents. Mueller said Google could propose to Oracle a cross-license that would resolve the Android IP dispute on more favorable terms than Google could negotiate without such leverage. Of course, it's not been proven whether Oracle infringes on Google's newly-acquired IP. Still, this is the kind of leverage Google could be aiming for by acquiring patents that aren't necessarily relevant to protect Android from litigants. At the least, it will deter some companies from suing Google directly, even if it won't protect Android OEM makers. "Apple, Microsoft and Oracle are highly diversified tech companies, so I think Google can also benefit from patents that aren't strictly mobile communications-related," Mueller added. Mueller also agreed that InterDigital is valuable for just about any company in the high-tech sector because it includes not only a a sizable patent portfolio but a research and development group that produces many hundreds of new patent applications every year. With these patent researchers, Apple, Google or Microsoft could accelerate the pace at which they obtain new patents. Unfortunately for Google, Mueller doesn't think the search engine could outbid Apple for InterDigital. Apple has more than $70 billion in the bank compared to just under $40 billion for Google.