In a blog post on Aug. 3, Google senior vice president and chief legal officer, David Drummond, sent shockwaves through the mobile market, charging his company’s chief competitors, including Apple and Microsoft, with waging “bogus” patent fights against the search giant.
Drummond said that he believes those companies are trying to “strangle” the competitive choice consumers around the globe currently enjoy. And he wanted to speak out against that.
Drummond’s statements are interesting, and they have proven to be a lightning rod for controversy throughout the industry. But they underscore the reality of the situation: mobile patent battles are flying, and so far, there is no end in sight.
As of this writing, patent battles are being waged between Oracle and Google, Apple and Samsung, and Microsoft and HTC, among others. And if Apple, RIM, Microsoft and others, are allowed to secure the Nortel patents they have acquired, the number of lawsuits might grow.
Read on to find out why so many patent battles are brewing today in the mobile market.
1. Android’s lead scares competitors
Android’s success in the mobile market has taken more than a few people by surprise. When the platform first launched, many thought it would be just another competitor in the marketplace. But now, Android is dominating the mobile market with nearly 50 percent share during the last quarter alone. That is scaring the platform’s competitors and they’re using their patent portfolios to try and stymie Android’s growth.
2. It’s easy
Let’s face it: filing for a patent and forcing companies to pay boatloads of fees in litigation is easy, especially for the companies that are doing it. Samsung, Apple and Microsoft all have more than enough cash to launch as many lawsuits as they want without feeling the effects of them. Since they own so many patents, getting a case in front of the U.S. ITC or district court judges isn’t so difficult.
3. Tit for tat
In the mobile space right now, there is a lot of give-and-take going on. For example, after Apple sued Samsung, the iPhone maker was hit by patent-infringement suits by Samsung. Now, the fight between the companies doesn’t appear to be settling down. It’s a similar story elsewhere around the mobile market. As soon as one company gets hit with a lawsuit, it responds. That isn’t helping matters for those who want to see fewer lawsuits in the industry.
4. It’s another revenue opportunity
For Microsoft, suing Android vendors is a revenue opportunity. Because of its strong patent portfolio, Microsoft has been going to vendors and requiring them to pay a “tax” for every smartphone they sell. Some companies, including Velocity Micro, have agreed to pay to the tax. Others have not. But if nothing else, the patents appear to be a revenue opportunity for some companies.
Patent Lawsuits Provide Competitive Leverage
5. It’s a necessity
Let’s not forget that when it comes to patent law, companies have a responsibility to protect their intellectual property. So in some cases it makes sense that firms file suit as a defensive whenever they feel their patents are being violated. As with anything else, there are some that abuse rules and others that follow them. Right now, there are still many companies that are following them.
6. Similarities abound
It’s also important for Google to recognize there is a lot of commonality in the mobile space right now. Multiple competing mobile operating systems have similar functionalities, devices look the same and the “feel” of the user interfaces of some of these products is quite close. Those similarities are causing some firms to jump the gun on lawsuits. Whether that’s right or wrong is for the courts to decide.
7. There’s a lot riding on the future
Perhaps one of the main reasons companies are so willing to be litigious right now is that they realize how important the mobile market will be in the coming years. Smartphones continue to gain popularity around the world and tablet sales are skyrocketing. Over the next decade, the mobile space could grow exponentially. So no firm-small or big-wants to be kept out of that money-making opportunity.
8. Google has a weak portfolio
Google has been targeted quite heavily by competitors, most notably Oracle, which is concerned about Android. Although Google might not like it, the company and its operating system have become lightning rods for lawsuits because it doesn’t have as strong of a patent portfolio as it should. Other companies have a much stronger portfolio. And they smell blood. If Google wants to see the lawsuits stop, it’ll have to buy more patents, just as it did recently with IBM.
9. For Microsoft, it’s about vendors
As mentioned, Microsoft is trying to get Android vendors to pay it a “tax” for the right to sell their products. Although that’s great for the short-term, Microsoft’s eventual goal is to get those vendors to realize that it’s cheaper to build Windows Phone 7 devices and ditch Android entirely. Whether it will work remains to be seen, but it’s certainly possible.
10. The government hasn’t stepped in
So far, government regulators and the courts have allowed companies to initiate lawsuits that, Google says, have no merit. Generally the government will let the courts decide these cases on their legal merits, unless Google can somehow show antitrust laws are being violated. But in any event, petty patent lawsuits aren’t good for anyone, including consumers. If the lawsuits have no merit, it’s about time someone steps in. However, so far, no one has done anything of the sort.