Google Asks Court to Protect Android Licensees from Apple-Owned Rockstar

| Analysis

Google in CourtGoogle has sued patent holding company Rockstar—a company owned by Apple, Microsoft, BlackBerry Sony, and Ericsson—asking the courts to protect various Android licensees from patent infringement claims by Rockstar. In the suit, Google accuses the suits of, "placing a cloud on the Android platform."

Google is asking the courts to declare that the company's Nexus line of products (made by other companies) don't infringe on seven Rockstar-owned patents that were acquired in an auction by now-defunct Nortel. Google also wants the court to declare that other Android products made by Google licensees targeted by Rockstar don't infringe.

In the court filing, Google wrote that, "Rockstar's litigation campaign has placed a cloud on Google's Android platform; threaten Google's business and relationships with its customers and partners, as well as its sales of Nexus-branded Android devices; and created a justiciable controversy between Google and Rockstar."

The suit accuses Rockstar of conducting a campaign of harassment against Android licensees, and plays up the fact that Rockstar is a so-called non-practicing entity (NPE). While Rockstar is owned by companies that actually make products, or practicing entities, Rockstar itself does not.

NPEs are often called patent trolls, and such trolls have long targeted Apple and other tech giants for a string of patent infringement suits. While it's more of a stretch to call Rockstar a patent troll because of its owners, the reality is that because it's an NPE, it's harder for companies targeted for infringement claims to defend themselves because they can't make counter infringement claims.

That process of claim and counter claim has been the cornerstone of corporate patent infringement strategy for decades, and Google and its Android licensees are at a severe disadvantage when defending themselves against Rockstar. That makes you question Google's decision not to join up with other Rockstar bidders when invited to do so in 2011.

Acting as Google's attorneys is the law firm Quinn Emmanuel. This is the same firm that managed to lose all of its patent infringement claims against Apple on behalf of Samsung, and who lost Samsung more than $900 million in damages when Samsung was found guilty of infringing on Apple's patents.

For entertainment's sake, you may get a kick out of GigaOM's coverage, which is filled with vitriol and bile aimed at Apple and Rockstar, while casting Google in the role of heroic defender. It's frankly not the quality content I expect from the publication.

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The comments on the GigaOM site are hilarious. Lots of folks who have no understanding of why the Rockstar Consortium exists (how do you get multiple competitors to collectively share a patent portfolio? You form a separate consortium to represent their collective interest. Pretty basic.), nor the fact that Google had the opportunity to join and passed. And that Google bid on the very same patents (With silly bids like “Brun’s constant”, “Meissel-Mertens constant”, and “pi” billion dollars). What do they think Google would have done with those patents if they had won? They would have defended them. To think otherwise is naive.

It is also interesting that, although Microsoft, Ericcson and Blackberry are also members of Rockstar, it is “Apple-backed”. Why not “Microsoft-backed”?


If software patents are eliminated, will US companies like Adobe and Microsoft be dealt death-blows? Will copycats in China, India and elsewhere have free rein to copy & sell all their software products at 1/4 the price?  Will this be the end of quality software? On all platforms?


IMO no.
The trouble is patenting. Copyrighting software would be OK IMO. The difference is that by copyrighting software you’d still be protected from anyone copying your exact code. Microsoft, Adobe, Apple would still be protected from piracy. However by allowing patents on software, companies ‘own’ concepts, like a button to purchase things from a web site and they can extort money from others that may have developed a totally different way to do the same thing. Allowing patents on software means that nobody else can come up with a better way to do something. It stifles innovation and creativity.

I’m a writer. I cannot legally copy the work of J. K. Rowling because they are copyrighted, but if I can write a better story about a boy wizard then I’m free to do so and put it out in the market. (The Silmarillion did very well despite superficial similarities to Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings.) But if J. K. Rowling had a patent of the idea of a boy wizard going to a wizard academy then nobody else could write any story along those lines. Suppose Agatha Christie had patented the murder mystery (yes I know she’d dead and the patent would have lapsed by now, just let it go for the sake of argument), then M.D. Lake and Stieg Larsson could not have published their works. Suppose Ian Fleming had patented the Spy Thriller, Tom Clancy could never have written his books.

You can copyright a cookbook and you own the recipes in it so nobody else can publish them without your permission and attribution, but you cannot patent a soufflé. I’m free to even look at your soufflé and then create a better one and sell the recipe for it. It seems crazy to me that you can write a line of code to turn on a light bulb and somehow own the concept and process for turning on a lightbulb.

It’s just nuts.


@geoduck: The Silmarillion was a collection of works written by J.R.R. Tolkien. Middle Earth was a part of it. Hence the similarities.


Quite right, my mistake.
I was thinking of the Sward of Shannara.

Lee Dronick

About the copyrighting of recipes. The way I read it I can take the list of ingredients and rewrite the directions.


geoduck, thanks for your post illustrating the difference between patents and copyrights. My knowledge about such legal matters is sparse at best. Hopefully, these issues get resolved by Congress and the courts in ways that push Apple (and others) to make even better products. But since software is developed in other countries besides the US, how can our laws and courts affect those developers?

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