Without radical change in patent law, Android's ecosystem will die

Summary:Only the invalidation of Apple's utility and design patents will save Android from possible extinction as a widely-used mobile device platform.


As we have seen from the outcome of the Apple v. Samsung trial, the jury found that Samsung willfully infringed upon intellectual property patents which Apple held that caused customer confusion as to product origin and as a result, damaged Apple's sales.

Whatever you think about the "rightness" of the decision, a decision in a court of law is a decision in a court of law. And if that decision is ultimately upheld, then I think we can all agree that the Android ecosystem of the future will look very different than the one that we see today.

I believe it is extremely likely that many if not all of the infringements of Apple's patents by Samsung will be upheld.

While the companies battle it out in appeals court, what can Android partners such as Samsung do in their defense? Make software and design changes so that Apple cannot pursue bans on their products?

As I said in a previous article Samsung and Google need a new dress , it is possible for Android partners to avoid further litigation and bans by creating a distinct trade dress for their devices which are unmistakeable from iOS devices.

Amazon appears to have done this successfully with Kindle Fire and this has kept their products out of Apple's legal crosshairs. For now. I'll get to that in just a moment.

Software alterations would also have to be made in order to avoid patent infringement. The most notable of which is D'305, which covers a grid of rounded square icons against a black background -- the trade dress of Apple's iOS.

There's a bunch of ways Google and its partners could handle this. Obviously, change the icons to circles or some other shape, and change the arrangement of the icon grid, perhaps to something more geometric.

In any case, Google and its partners need to patent it when it is done.

But aside from trade dress/industrial design alteration, there is also the issue of the utility patents that were violated in the Samsung v. Apple case, and the only way to avoid that would be to remove the infringing functionality.

Much of this functionality is critical to the way in which mobile devices operate, such as Apple patents D'381, D'915 and D'163, which cover many of the multi-touch gestures we come to think of as very basic in the operation of mobile devices, such as pinch to zoom/twist and touch scrolls, among several others.

I have another scenario to propose, and it's not rosy for the OEMs. Considering all these trade dress and software functionality changes may need to be done in order to avoid litigation, it is possible that we may see a number of the OEMs -- perhaps even Samsung itself -- drop out of the Android business entirely.

Google may wish to counter this OEM diaspora by making Nexus the only brand of Android device. The logical thing for it to do in that case would be to use OEMs as ODMs (Original Design Manufacturers) with Google shouldering all of the device support as well as any future potential legal risks.

This is how a giant like Samsung can stay in the game, in its traditional component and third-party device manufacturing role. But Google would have to completely indemnify Samsung as the primary ODM in this scenario.

Topics: Mobility, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Samsung


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet is a technologist with over two decades of experience with integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer... Full Bio

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