Android as Microsoft's most successful mobile OS, and other nightmares

Rumour has it that Microsoft is busy trying to shut down Android by picking off Far Eastern companies who would use it and demanding hefty per-unit licensing fees on the back of the patents that, Microsoft claims, are violated by the open source platform.Normally, rumours aren't good enough to go to town on — but rumours are all we have.

Rumour has it that Microsoft is busy trying to shut down Android by picking off Far Eastern companies who would use it and demanding hefty per-unit licensing fees on the back of the patents that, Microsoft claims, are violated by the open source platform.

Normally, rumours aren't good enough to go to town on — but rumours are all we have. Microsoft's negotiations over IP are conducted in strict secrecy: the company is happy to make vague threats in public, but has no taste for testable claims. Whether this is because that would allow the contested IP to be written out of Android by the community, whether the IP Microsoft is claiming is not that strong, or whether it just doesn't want the attention, it doesn't matter.

You'll also note that any agreement — and there are over 600 — actually struck forbids discussion by the companies concerned, thus neatly short-circuiting open source's major advantage — the community.

(A moment's silence, if you please, for the original justification for patents — to spread knowledge. And a moment's sheer incoherent rage that Microsoft, in line with everyone who treads that path, defends its actions as encouraging innovation. It does not. It cannot. It does the opposite. Go ahead and try to work out your patent liability if you publish some new software.)

But back to those rumours. Those rumours say Microsoft proposes to charge $10-$15 per unit in patents for Android — making it the company's most successful mobile operating system — and the same sort of range for Windows Phone 7. Thus, the contradictions multiply to well past the point they distort space and time.

Is Microsoft claiming that the value of the IP in Android that it contributed is the same as the value of the IP in Windows Phone 7? If not, then if the IP claimed by Microsoft in Android is (as seems probable) six or seven patents, how does that value the entire platform, which contains many thousand times as much IP?

But this is bringing engineering logic to a situation run by financial strategists. If the tools exist for Microsoft to stop the opposition from succeeding, then Microsoft will use them - and if they are inherently ridiculous and indefensible, then it will use them in secret.

Software patents are disastrously wrong, and do not deserve their market-distorting power. If they had been in existence at the start of the digital age, we'd not have the Internet, we'd not have modern operating systems. We'd not have now. Look at how much innovation took place before software patents took hold in the mid-1990s; look how much effort is being expended in trying to survive them today.

If I could have one wish, it would be to invalidate software patents, worldwide, immediately. And if I can't have that, I'd like all negotiations that involve publicly granted IP rights — such as patents — to be held in public.

Without secrecy, none of this nonsense would work.

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