Court documents filed in Oracles’ patent infringement suit against Google and its Android operating systems show that Google’s own policy is to allow select Android OEMs have favored access to the smartphone OS. The documents specifically cite Motorola—the same Motorola Google has announced it will purchase—and Verizon, which could well be taken as a conflict of interest by Google’s other OEMs.
The court filing were covered by noted patent watcher Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents, and come from Oracle’s patent infringement case over Java, which Oracle alleges Google used without license in the developer tools distributed with Android. The particular passage noted by Mr. Mueller that he characterized as a “bombshell” revelation is:
Lead device concept: Give early access to the software to partners who build and distribute devices to our specification (ie [sic], Motorola and Verizon). They get a non-contractual time to market advantage and in return they align to our standard.
In the figure below, you can see the passage from Google’s internal presentation on Android highlighted with a red box.
Internal Google Presentation on Android from Court Filing
(Click the image to see a larger version)
Source: FOSS Patents
What’s That Mean?
To explain that a bit, this document states that one of Google’s ways to promote Android and maintain control over its “open source” direction will be to provide early access to OEMs who are willing to play ball and design their Android smartphones in a way that matches Google’s own goals of promoting its mobile services, especially search. By doing so, the company hopes that these “lead devices” will help shape expectations and the devices from other OEMs that follow.
This document predates Google’s announced purchase of Motorola Mobility, but the question is this: If Google was going to give early access to Motorola before it owned Motorola, why wouldn’t the company continue to do so once it has purchased the company.
If it did so, that would put those other OEMs, such as HTC, Samsung, LG, and several other global smartphone makers, at a distinct disadvantage, especially if that early access time was extended.
As Mr. Mueller put it, “Can you imagine that a company like Samsung, HTC, LG or Sony could still trust Google in this regard if Google actually competes with them through a subsidiary?”
DO IT ALREADY!
Of course, the reality is that Google’s best course of action would be to take this path to its ultimate conclusion and become a whole widget ecosystem provider like Apple. Half measures like early access for Motorola or other select OEMs is going to cause problems for those not in the in-crowd, especially if it’s Google’s own hardware arm that is receiving this benefit, while simultaneously not going far enough to provide the best possible device and experience to its users.
Then again, if those OEMs abandon Android (which is admittedly quite unlikely at this point) over concerns stemming from this early access issue, the company may not have a choice but to do it right and use its new hardware company to compete head-to-head with Apple as a whole widget provider.
A Bag of Hurt
Lastly, keep in mind that the backdrop to this particular revelation is that Oracle is suing Google for patent infringement related to Java. FOSS Patents has additional coverage of that aspect of the case in which a Google engineer admits to a “strong indication that it is likely” that he copied Sun’s Java code into Android, which is an entirely different world of hurt for Google’s Android platform.