Android makers: Why not stick a 'sue me' sign on your back?

Android makers: Why not stick a 'sue me' sign on your back?

Summary: Considering the Microsoft-Motorola spat and assorted mobile technology patent suits flying around, is Android even a safe operating system for handset makers to use?

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With all but every mobile manufacturer, from handset makers to Android providers, being sued left, right and center, one has to question whether Android is even a safe operating system to use for a handset builder -- at least in the current climate

The whole patent mess of companies suing others, with the exception of Microsoft and Apple playing nicely together, is convoluted, confusing and complex.

Simply put: Android is the common thorn in the side of many, at the moment.

Motorola is being sued by Microsoft for allegedly infringing over a dozen of its patents -- notably ActiveSync email synchronisation patents used in Android -- that Motorola does not have the rights to license.

Yet, Motorola is counter-suing Microsoft over patents that it also allegedly infringed.

To make matters even more confusing, Microsoft is suing Barnes & Noble over a different set Android patents, as part of Microsoft's battle against the Nook Color.

But Microsoft's war against Android falls short, as HTC and Amazon appear to be safe from lawsuits; at least until one or both slip up, and break the terms in their already-established agreements.

As you can see from the London Underground-like infographic below, nearly everybody is suing everyone else at some level, with HTC and Amazon clearly playing ball in Microsoft's eyes.

Since Microsoft already gets $5 for every HTC Android phone -- a full $150 million based on the 30 million handsets that HTC has already shipped -- Microsoft and HTC are clearly playing nicely.

Amazon have licensed patents belonging to Microsoft, and are thus paying a vast amount of money to use the patents that Microsoft owns. But the companies that Microsoft is suing, Motorola and Barnes & Noble, must have refused to license the patents.

The simple bottom line.

It's not as if Microsoft doesn't want Android makers to take out applications or protocols that infringed its patents -- it just wants money for them, like royalties.

But if the latter is true, and licenses are being deliberately circumvented, then why? Is it a matter of price, or a case of sheer defiance?

Who is suing who? Click to enlarge

Who is suing who? Click to enlarge

But the Motorola-Microsoft dispute is where a lot of the pressure lies. Whatever happens next could determine the outcome for many other lawsuits, in progress and to come.

Microsoft began making its case in a U.S. trade case, which threatens the outcome of Motorola Mobility's handsets.

The case centers on Android-based smartphones made by Motorola, with Microsoft arguing that the handset maker used seven patented technologies held by Microsoft.

The International Trade Commission, the court residing in this case, has the power to block the import of products that violate U.S. patents.

But, as Google bought out Motorola Mobility earlier this month for $12.5 billion -- partly to obtain patents that would make Motorola's battle also Google's -- Microsoft may now have to go up against an even bigger gun that Motorola.

The recent patent spat explosion reached a peak when Google and Microsoft exchanged angry messages in public over Twitter, for the entire world to see.

As far as I see it, there are three outcomes to the Motorola-Microsoft dispute, which would have a resounding effect on the remaining lawsuits and conflicts:

1. The International Trade Commission bans Motorola phones running Android.

Google tried to block key testimony by a Microsoft employee who allegedly saw propriety Android source code. But the judge ruled that only Microsoft or Motorola, as the two parties directly involved in the case could put forward such a request.

If Microsoft wins, the ITC judge could impose a ban on all affected Motorola phones, which would then by definition infringe Microsoft's patents. This would not only be bad news for Motorola, but others which infringe those patents.

Who wins: Microsoft, because it seals the deal for millions in license revenue.

2. Motorola could be forced to license patents owned by Microsoft

Granted, it isn't as bad as having its phones banned across the United States, a key market for Motorola, it would mean shelling out millions of dollars that it had not previously accounted for, leaving a black spot in the finances of the handset maker.

This would not only affect Motorola, but also Barnes & Noble, which is still being sued by Microsoft for infringing its patents in the Android-based Nook Color.

Who wins: Microsoft, again. It's starting to look like it can't lose.

3. Google intervenes and settles -- appeasing Microsoft as best it can

Let's not forget that Google acquired Motorola Mobility, effectively buying itself one hell of a fight with Microsoft over its patents it allegedly owns.

But while Google and Microsoft historically bicker over search and enterprise email, communications and the college space, where Office 365 and Google Apps directly compete, the two do not want an all-out fight.

Not again, that is. The two have 'mutually assured destruction', and nobody wants the two to explode.

Google will likely settle the case and appease Microsoft as best it can, by spending a ton of money and licensing its patents to use.

Who wins: Microsoft, and Google, in a way. Because even though Google has to shell out money it doesn't want to spend, it keeps its newly acquired handset business in business.

But there is one consideration to make -- now we are in a post-Jobs world.

As senior technology editor Jason Perlow considers, new Apple CEO Tim Cook has an entirely different ethos to the company he has been effectively running since January.

It could be that Apple subsequently drops the counter-lawsuits against major Android manufacturers, like HTC, Samsung and Motorola. By dropping the lawsuits, it would rebalance Apple back into a viable player on the mobile market, without others running afraid of being sued over what is basically a petty patent dispute.

But without Steve Jobs at the helm, the semi-paranoid, ego-driven company that Apple has effectively become could slowly peter out; regaining balance, and becoming a rehabilitated and valuable member of the technology community.

Related content:

Topics: Mobility, Android, Google, Hardware, Legal, Microsoft, Smartphones

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112 comments
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  • RE: Android makers: Why not stick a 'sue me' sign on your back?

    And NONE of these stupid lawsuits are leading to new innovation, better products, nor are they protecting small inventors from being exploited by bigger better funded corporations.

    The patent system is doing the opposite of what it was supposed to. It now serves as a huge blunt weapon employed almost entirely by enormous well funded businesses against each other and any smaller business which attempts to enter their chosen markets. It helps a handful of the most aggressive large corps, and enriches fleets of lawyers who do not "create" anything for humanity.
    spark555
    • So Google is a "small inventor"?

      @spark555

      Is that your implication?
      Bruizer
      • RE: Android makers: Why not stick a 'sue me' sign on your back?

        @Bruizer Nope. Google is one of the large corps who has enough money and lawyers to defend itself in a system which was intended to serve the opposite end of the invention spectrum.
        spark555
      • RE: Android makers: Why not stick a 'sue me' sign on your back?

        @Bruizer Look up the meaning of the word "and".

        I said the patent system is being used against "Other" (enormous corporations such as Google) "AND any smaller business which attempts to enter their chosen markets".

        You may now resume your mindless support of Apple. Be sure to address the new notification feature in iOS 5 which is rather obviously a copy of what Android has been doing for years. You hate stealing... right?
        spark555
      • spark555 re iOS and "Android" notification

        Is that all ya got??? :-)

        That seems to be about the only "IP" issue that Android supporters can throw up in the face of Apple vs the whole look, feel and functionality of Android copying iOS (see original pre-iPhone Android and it's mimicking of then WinMobile and Blackberry devices).

        I believe it's been mentioned by others that the original Newton had notification similar to the disputed method now being discussed.

        For shame if Android also ripped off the Newton as well as the iPhone!
        MacCanuck
      • RE: Android makers: Why not stick a 'sue me' sign on your back?

        @MacCanuck

        Even if Google copied the Apple Newton in some fashion, who cares? Patents related to the Newton have long since expired.

        Patents are designed with a dual use:

        1) They give inventors a temporary monopoly on their invention, or at least part of it.

        2) They publicly disclose the method for implementing the invention.

        The key word in number 2 is "publicly". After a patent has expired, the implementation described in patents is pubic domain and its free use by third parties becomes essentially legally protected.
        scottwsx96
      • What is the patent number on Google's notification system?

        @spark555

        [i]Be sure to address the new notification feature in iOS 5 which is rather obviously a copy of what Android has been doing for years.[/i]

        Is that system patented? You can't be violating a patent on something that doesn't have a patent.
        RationalGuy
      • RE: Android makers: Why not stick a 'sue me' sign on your back?

        @Bruizer Goggle is an Ant compard to MS and the fruit company !!!
        electroman76
      • @scottwsx... if so re expired Newton notification patent

        that makes all the Apple bashing about using that (and supposedly copying Android) notification-style all the more moot and laughable.

        If Android can implement an expired patent, why can't Apple (considering it was theirs to begin with)???
        MacCanuck
      • RE: Android makers: Why not stick a 'sue me' sign on your back?

        @MacCanuck

        Your post says you are replying to me, but the content seems to be a reply to someone else. Where did I say Apple can't implement notifications?
        scottwsx96
    • RE: Android makers: Why not stick a 'sue me' sign on your back?

      @spark555
      Since when is google small company? Instead stealing and ripping out others inventions and patents google, which had time to settle and innovate, decided to steal from others starting from Blackberry to iOS in appearance and UX and Microsoft to Nokia to others' technologies to pack on rub on its so called partners in OHA. So much Open Handset Alliance and so much for openness. It is found that Android is not that much open at all apart from not being innovative.
      Ram U
      • RE: Android makers: Why not stick a 'sue me' sign on your back?

        @Rama.NET Where are you people getting "google is a small company" out of my post which says the US patent system is broken, and that it does the opposite of what was intended: Only HUGE corporations LIKE GOOGLE (and Apple and Microsoft) are able to function in the marketplace AT ALL.

        We can see that, and then sub-divide the the large corps into those who try to drive competitors out of business with attack lawsuits, and those who try to build up sufficiently inventory of patents and lawyers so that they do not look like an inviting target by group 1.

        You may now explain how the patent system IS helping drive innovation and protect the small inventor against larger better funded corporations... if you somehow believe that the main thrust of my post was mistaken.
        spark555
      • RE: Android makers: Why not stick a 'sue me' sign on your back?

        @Rama.NET PS. If you REALLY believe in banning corporations from "stealing" other folks "innovations", I assume you will be going after Apple and iOS 5 as it rolls out a pull down notification tab which Android has been using for years?<br><br>Oh wait... you only care about _some_ kinds of copying... right?<br><br>(and for the record, I'm fine with Apple going to a better, and well proven design for notifications)
        spark555
      • RE: Android makers: Why not stick a 'sue me' sign on your back?

        @Rama.NET <br><br>Fact check that you failed or don't care about: Google has not been formally nailed in the legal system for doing "stealing" of imaginary property, so that's just a wish you have and nothing more. It's called competition, and it's a driver of the American economy.
        DonRupertBitByte
      • RE: Android makers: Why not stick a 'sue me' sign on your back?

        @Rama.NET

        I understand where you are coming from.

        @spark555

        Chill man, you seem like a rabid fanboy. The patent system is broken, but it attempts to protect your intellectual property to make sure you get properly credited (which includes finances) for things you create. As for innovation... other than Apple none of the other large companies you speak of are manufacturing hardware devices. They typically deal with software which makes Apple the anomaly as its such a closed ecosystem. Many of these OEM phone manufacturers are only in trouble because Android appears to implement a lot of things it did not license.

        @DonRupertBitByte

        Where have you been? Heard of Oracle? It seems pretty clear that Google has been caught with their hands in the cookie jar. A lot of these other patent suits around android also validate that licensing patents is a must. The reason Google has been left out on many of those litigation wars is simply because they don't manufacture devices that run android, otherwise they would most likely also be in litigation currently.
        Fan_of_Tech
      • RE: Android makers: Why not stick a 'sue me' sign on your back?

        @Rama.NET

        Actually it's open in a few BIG ways, open to sucking the life out of your battery in a premature time and open to crashing!!!!
        mikroland2.0
      • RE: Android makers: Why not stick a 'sue me' sign on your back?

        @Rama.NET
        You and Bruizer really need to tune up your reading comprehension skills.
        Timba1336
    • RE: Android makers: Why not stick a 'sue me' sign on your back?

      @spark555 Most of these Law suits aren't sticking anyway!
      slickjim
      • That must be reason why they are settling

        @Peter Perry I guess that is why HTC and even Motorola is settling and paying to license the patents.
        wackoae
      • RE: Android makers: Why not stick a 'sue me' sign on your back?

        @Peter Perry Some are failing, some are successful - often based on the exact same claims.<br><br>Which leads to the conclusion that the cases are not being judged on merit - it simply varies based on legal system and skill set of lawyers and other leverage applied to the legal system.<br><br>At no point do ANY of the cases do anything but spend money (which has to eventually be repaid by consumers) on NON-innovation. On banning products because someone thinks they own the touch screen rectangle "design". Or because someone thinks they "invented" synchronization of contacts or scrolling through pictures.<br><br>It's pathetic.<br><br>End it. Terminate the existing patent system and start over.
        spark555