Google: Apple, Microsoft Using “Bogus” Patents to Stifle Android

Apple, Microsoft, and Oracle are a bunch of sore losers who are trying to use a stack of “bogus” patents to stifle and “strangle” the awesomeness that is Android because they can’t compete through innovation, or so David Drummond, Google’s Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer, said in a blog post Wednesday.

Never mind, of course, that it is precisely the lack of innovation that Apple, Microsoft, and Oracle have charged Google with through the numerous patent infringement complaints and lawsuits the companies have launched against the search giant.

Mr. Drummond made the case that the number of Android devices being activated every day, some 550,000 according to Google, are proof that Android is awesome, and that it shows that, “Android and other platforms are competing hard against each other,” though how it shows this he didn’t specify.

He added, “But Android’s success has yielded something else: a hostile, organized campaign against Android by Microsoft, Oracle, Apple and other companies, waged through bogus patents.”

He accuses Apple, Microsoft, and Oracle of conducting an orchestrated “anti-competitive” campaign to leverage their existing patents, and to buy patents from other companies like Novell and Nortel, to make Android too expensive for hardware manufacturers to use the OS for their smartphones.

“Patents were meant to encourage innovation, but lately they are being used as a weapon to stop it,” he wrote.

Which is a ballsy crock of poop. That’s right, a ballsy crock of poop.

Let me amend his sentence so that it’s less full of poop: Patents were meant to encourage innovation by arming innovators with the power to stop others from copying and profiting from their innovation.

There, that’s less poopful, and it is also a more reasonable characterization of the “orchestrated campaign” being fought against Android by Apple and Oracle. It might even apply to Microsoft, but I know markedly less about Microsoft’s patent infringement claims against Android device makers than I do about Apple’s and Oracles, and I won’t pretend to address those claims.

Google has worked very hard to play the victim in the patent wars, but it does so by ignoring the hard reality behind those wars: The company copied innovation that was invented and brought to market by Apple. It copied Java-related technology owned by Oracle in the process of doing so.

Google isn't the victim in the patent wars, it's the perp.In other words, Google is the one trying to stifle innovation by copying the inventions of others, which is precisely what the patent system was intended to prevent, and crying foul and playing the victim gets zero sympathy from me.

To be certain, the U.S. patent system is a bloody mess. Today we have patent trolls galore who patent a concept and wait for other people and companies who actually produce goods to do something that may utilize that concept so they can sue and earn all manner of licensing fees.

True patent trolls (in my mind) are real leeches on innovation because they don’t produce anything, they don’t create anything, and they never intend to. They wait for their betters to do the work and then leech profits off the top and call it a day.

At the same time, there are so many patents to navigate, the chances of a small company being able to come up with some kind of disruptive technology and bring it to market in the computer, smartphone, or tablet market is next to nil at this point. It takes too many lawyers and far too much money for that to happen. That is something that definitely limits the potential for innovation.

So there are definitely problems with our current patent system, I just take umbrage at Mr. Drummond’s efforts to hide behind those skirts when defending his company.

“A smartphone might involve as many as 250,000 (largely questionable) patent claims, and our competitors want to impose a ‘tax’ for these dubious patents that makes Android devices more expensive for consumers,” he said.

A lot of those patent claims are dubious, maybe even most of them, but some of them aren’t. Some of them are truly innovative ways of doing something that someone worked long and hard to figure out. A lot of those someone worked at Apple while the company toiled for years to invent a touchscreen operating system that would revolutionize the cellphone industry.

Nokia is another company that has innovated in this area. The company figured out how to do some things that ended up becoming foundation technologies in the cell phone industry, and were deemed to so important the company was required to license them on a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory basis.

Apple refused to pay the company’s licensing demands (Apple accused Nokia of trying to extort money above the fair and reasonable licensing terms Nokia was required to charge), and when Nokia sued, the two companies eventually came to terms.

Apple should not have been allowed to use the technologies that Nokia had invented, as was made loud and clear by the Apple haters when that battle was being fought at the beginning of this patent war, and in the end it was not allowed to do so.

Google is in a similar spot with Android, in my mind. Apple invented a new and disruptive smartphone with a touchscreen interface that had never been done before.

Let me be clear about that: Before iPhone, there was no touchscreen smartphone. Before iPhone, Android was a keyboard-driven affair that would have put the hurt on RIM’s BlackBerry had iPhone not come out before it could do so. But iPhone did come out, and it changed the rules in the process, and Google quickly adapted Android to compete with iPhone instead of BlackBerry.

Just as RIM itself did, though it did so poorly.

To get there, Google had to step on Oracle’s toes, too, building a proprietary version of an open source Java derivative that Oracle says infringes on its Java patents (remember that Oracle bought Sun, the inventor of Java). That battle is still being fought.

To get back to the central point, Google claims that the patent system was intended to encourage innovation, and that is true, but the company is blithely ignoring the fact that when it comes to Google, Oracle, and Apple, the patent system was designed to protect the true innovators, Apple and Oracle, against Google, the copier.

Google isn’t the victim in the patent wars, it’s the perp.

Hell, even Microsoft, a company NOT known for being innovative, went its own way with Windows Phone 7.

The patent wars are currently being fought by proxy, at least by Apple, with the iPhone maker suing hardware makers for infringement. Apple has not yet sued Google directly, and Apple’s precious touch-related patents haven’t yet been litigated.

My personal assumption is that Google eventually will be sued by Apple, and I would imagine that without substantive changes to Android, changes that will no doubt make the smartphone OS less user-friendly, Google will lose.