The Real Issue Behind the Android Lawsuits

by Ben Bajarin   |   July 18th, 2011

In case you haven’t been following the lawsuit news closely, three major companies have been suing companies using Google’s Android operating system. The three companies behind the bulk of these suits are Apple, Microsoft and Oracle. The latest in the saga came down Friday when the International Trade Community ruled in Apple’s favor in its suit against HTC and several of their Android devices. The ITC ruled that HTC had indeed infringed on two patents that were specifically granted to Apple.

For a highly detailed analysis of the ITC’s decision I will point you to Florian Mueller’s Foss Patents blog and his post – ITC judge finds HTC in infringement of two Apple patents.

Also take a look at Fortune’s tech writer Phillip Elmer Dewitt’s story where he points out a tangible example of one of the patents use cases: Apple vs. Google: Inside an Android patent violation.

I’ve read at least a dozen articles on this subject over the weekend and many great articles have covered this from every angle imaginable. There is however one point i’d like to make that I feel is at the heart of the issue.

I have heard from a number of very sharp analysts and experts in our circles that these lawsuits against those who ship Android products are extremely serious. Everyone generally agrees that even though the lawsuits themselves are targeting those who ship Android devices, it is really Android which is the issue. Everyone also generally agrees that given the nature of the lawsuits from the current big three you would have to conclude that Android certainly does step on its fair share of patent infringements. In fact its hard to create a product in today’s times that doesn’t infringe on someones patents. This is why having a robust patent portfolio is key to so many companies since it allows them either patent protection or cross license opportunities when the inevitable patent infringement comes.

That being said what I feel the real issue behind the lawsuits is that Android is free. It’s obviously one thing to infringe on a companies inventions or innovations and then sell them but its another entirely to infringe on someones inventions and innovations and give them away for free. It sends the message that those innovations aren’t even worth enough to ask someone to pay for them.

Whether or not this was Google’s intention with Android will most likely never be known. Whatever the case my opinion is that the de-valuing of others inventions or innovations is at the heart of the intense lawsuits we are seeing come down with Android as the target.

This is not to say that these lawsuits would not have occurred anyway only that there is an intensity behind them that I feel is being fueled at least in part by the liberally giving freely of other people’s IP.

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research. He is a husband, father, gadget enthusiast, trend spotter, early adopter and hobby farmer. Full Bio
  • Anonymous

    Although, I would contend that the issue is simply that the patents were infringed upon and free or not doesn’t matter to the complainants. I do see your point about the issue from Google’s POV. They have a very explicit history of “It is easier to ask ‘forgiveness’ than to ask permission” when it comes to things they are interested in pursuing. Take their project with books and how they approach the music storage service, though Amazon beat them to that punch. I still wouldn’t doubt if they had the plans long before Amazon. Definitely a “shoot first, and let God (aka, the courts and public policy/opinion) sort them out” mentality.

    I think this kind of attitude is intrinsic to a company that earns revenue from advertising, which is why Apple’s foray into advertising with iAD surprises me, except that they get tired of seeing poorly produced ads on their not poorly produced devices.

    Interesting take.

    Joe

    • Kubricklove

      jfutral comment is spot on for me. Interesting take on an interesting take.

  • http://twitter.com/DavidPolitis DavidPolitis

    Nice overview, Ben. This will be a very interesting issue to follow, especially given the amount of money and the market share at stake by some very BIG players.

  • Anonymous

    So, the lawsuits against android are driven by at least three points:
    1. google misappropriated IP from the other three companies – fraud
    2. Google offends by giving that IP away for free – your point
    3. Android is stealing market share from two of them – AAPL,MSFT

  • Fjfj49fj

    Google may be giving away other companies’ IP for free. They are still accountable and they are very profitable. Without the ill-gotten IP they would not be making any money.

  • Fjfj49fj

    Google may be giving away other companies’ IP for free. They are still accountable and they are very profitable. Without the ill-gotten IP they would not be making any money.

  • Qpz

    Surely HTC will just go after the prior art which must exist for these so-called patents, especially 5,946,647. I’d be amazed if prior to 1996 there were not examples of this type of functionality (patent records systems? airline booking systems? Teletext or videotex systems?)

    In the unlikely event there’s no prior art, surely it fails on obviousness. I’m not against all patents, just the granting of these pathetically obvious and trivial ones.

    >>by the liberally giving freely of other people’s IP.

    Adverb, gerund, adverb. Quite an achievement. ;) Drawing a veil over your difficulties with syntax, I fail to see what IP exists in the case of 5,946,647. Could you point out the IP content?

    • Qpz5544

      Yes here we are — this article gives an excellent rundown of all the prior art which invalidates Apple’s so-called IP in patent 5,946,647:
      http://www.quora.com/What-prior-art-is-there-that-could-invalidate-Apples-647-Patent
      In particular, MS Cardfile and Lotus Agenda both provided exactly the same functionality described in the Apple ‘patent’, years before it was filed.

      I really do find it extraordinary, Ben, (quite apart from your struggles with English grammar) that you wrote this article without ever questioning the validity of these patents. It seems a basic flaw in your journalism.

      • Anonymous

        I encourage you to do a little research on my bio given that I am not a journalist, I am a industry analyst on the qualitative side and there is fundamental difference. This website is also an opinion and editorial website not a news website.

        That being said I have deep industry relationships and from my conversations with those whom these lawsuits affect, it does certainly appear there will be some losses on by Google on this front. Google is not innocent in this matter if that is what you are referring to and that will prove clear if it hasn’t already.

        You need to also understand my bigger picture point with this article which was that to liberally take innovations and then give them away for free. I am trying to look at this from an angle on which is helpful and beneficial for this industry at large.