The Real Issue Behind the Android Lawsuits

on July 18, 2011
Reading Time: 2 minutes

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.