The Rockstar patent attack on Google and Co.: Four takeaways

The Rockstar patent attack on Google and Co.: Four takeaways

Summary: Microsoft watchers should pay close attention to what's happening with the latest spate of lawsuits filed by Rockstar against Google and Android handset makers. Here's why.


On October 31, the Rockstar patent consortium -- owned by Microsoft, Apple, BlackBerry Ericcson and Sony -- sued Google and a handful of Android handset makers for patent infringement.


The timing of this was interesting: Rockstar filed eight lawsuits on October 31. (Copies of the complaints are going up on FOSS Patents.) News on Rockstar's actions hit just hours after Google announced the release of its Android "KitKat" update and availability of the Android-based Google Nexus 5.

I have to admit that after covering the lead up to the $4.5 billion purchase of the Nortel patents by Microsoft and the other Rockstar backers, I had largely forgotten about Rockstar. But it appears they're poised to have a major impact on the mobile marketspace and those who participate in it.

In reading Ars Technica's and others' write-ups about yesterday's Rockstar patent attack, a few things stood out to me:

* The suits filed today are against Google and seven companies that make Android smartphones: Asustek, HTC, Huawei, LG Electronics, Pantech, Samsung, and ZTE. Most of these companies have signed Android patent-protection deals with Microsoft over the past months. Huawei still hasn't, I believe. The suit against Google filed yesterday focuses primarily on search-engine and advertising patents. (Plus, as Rockstar execs have said, Rockstar is an independent entity and thus can sue at will, even if one of its funders has put its own patent deals in place.)

* These patent cases were filed in the Eastern District of Texas. The US District Court in Eastern Texas is quite familiar to Microsoft, as it is a favorite venue for patent trolls to sue Redmond. Microsoft has tangled in this very court in the past with VirnetX Inc.; Z4 Technologies and i4i. Maybe "patent-licensor" Rockstar will find Eastern Texas to be a natural home for future cases, too.

* Rockstar is staffed primarily with a bunch of former Nortel staff members and management. They have a lab dedicated to reverse engineering communications products to try to ascertain if they can use any of the thousands of patents that the consortium bought from Nortel when it was going bankrupt to sue other companies for infringement.

* The mutually-assured-destruction environment that's prevented Microsoft suing Google directly for Android patent infringement is crumbling. It's now evident Rockstar is one way Microsoft, Apple and other mobile-tech vendors are planning to attack Google indirectly. Another way Microsoft plans to keep tightening the screws, no doubt,  is by continuing to forge Android and Chrome OS patent deals.

Topics: Android, Google, Legal, Microsoft, Patents


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Well duh...

    I own an HTC One, a Samsung S4, and am now waiting for the Google Nexus 5 to arrive. I own Samsung Note and Google Nexus tablets. I don't own, or plan to ever own any Windows, Sony/Ericcson, or Blackberry phones or tablets. I don't know anyone who does or is. Apple enjoys huge success in the U.S., but Android phones are outselling all these manufacturers phones + Iphones combined when you look at the worldwide smartphone market. That is the driving force behind this lawsuit. Rockstar companies are absolutely desperate. Amazing when you realize Android was only born 10 years ago as an OS for cameras.
    • you are only enjoying because

      you are only enjoying because google used any technology with out making sure who owns it, their agend is more users and they got it, even if they have pay some royalties they will cos they are making more money by selling your stuff.
      • Re: google used any technology with out making sure who owns it

        Rockstar reminds me of SCO and we all know how that worked out for them and their shadow lawsuit funder who got the money from Microsoft.

        Microsoft shakes down the real players in mobile for money but never can back up the claim that they own the patents.

        We need a new GrokLaw....
        • Update on law suit

          After reading what was filed, it looks more like a fact finding mission to find out more how AdWords works so Microsoft can work on their struggling search engine. I also think Microsoft et al have under estimated the intellect of a jury picked in Marshall Texas.

          With all the talk of the "New Microsoft" it is pretty clear that nothing has changed in Redmond and it will be interesting to see the outcome of this one.
      • I have neither the time, nor the inclination... perform a patent search every time I install a computer program, buy a piece of hardware, or put two lines of code together; nor do most other people. As a matter of public policy, the fact that you would even suggest that consumers try to figure out "who owns what technology" is an indication that the patent system is severely broken. But I doubt that's really what you want people to do (much easier to buy all of one's hardware and software from MS and its "partners" and to only develop for MS operating systems).
        John L. Ries
        • And...

          ...I'd rather be sued into bankruptcy than to give in to a bully.
          John L. Ries
      • There is nothing worthwhile about Rockstar

        This is a blood sucking leech of a company designed only to hurt consumers and make us pay more for products to support ridiculous legal fees. Rockstar produces nothing, it has no value to this world. Patents should have a "use it or lose it" clause in it. You should not own patents you have no intention of using to improve a product or service. Patent troll is a great name for these kinds of companies. I believe there must be a change in patent laws. You should actually have to invent something to have a patent.
    • I wish everyone was responsible like you to ignore rotten companies like Ap

      I wish everyone was responsible like you to ignore such the rotten companies like Apple or Microsoft
    • Way to purchase

      products with stolen IP, typical fandroid consumer. Steal what they can and be damned.
      • That's pretty funny...

        Microsoft and Apple have both found themselves on the losing end of numerous patent lawsuits in the past. I'm curious who you think is worthy of buying from, who you think isn't violating any patents...
    • of course you

      own all those phones and tablets? Samsung is forking the hell out of Android and will soon split into its own OS thus moving away from the locked garden of Google services. HTC is a basket case. Nexus is a subsidised phone therefore the carriers hate it.

      Android as an OS is a stolen piece of software violating patents from so many companies its unbelievable. Why do you think all these companies agreed to pay MS for Android handset sales? because they felt sorry for MS? no because they stole R&D software.
      • Which MS patents?

        Microsoft have not as yet bothered to bring a suit against Google for the infringing code.

        Neither have they sued any of the manufacturers who have not agreed to pay upfront.

        What they have done is ask for an indemnity from device manufacturers to prevent and protect them from being sued for patent infringement by Microsoft.

        Even if the manufacturer pays up, it is not proof of wrong-doing. They are hedging against a potential suit by passing the cost MS are asking for onto the consumer.
        • Microsoft already makes money off android

          Microsoft is paid licencing for every Android device sold already. Try to keep up.
    • the RockStar legal goons should be stopped

      by DoJ and people's voice!
      Otherwise, there will be riots in the streets against the axis of evil software!
      LlNUX Geek
      • "there will be riots in the streets"

        LOL. You made my Friday. LOL.:D
        Ram U
      • please apply common sense

        Microsoft's software is not evil, it is just poorly designed. Microsoft does more damage to themselves than anyone could externally inflict, mostly because of poor management. But either way, they don't (yet) care as money keep flowing their way. Why should you?

        As for Google, most of their stuff is stolen, yes. They will pay some day. Might be, this is the day?
        • stolen from Apple

          you allude at? Trying to repeat the dead megalomaniac Steve Jobs?
          As a matter of fact, Apple has stolen from others all of this stuff. GNU Bash and gcc are only two examples.
    • This is not about desperation. It is about being paid for your inventions.

      This isn't about desperation or even competition. It is about being paid for your inventions.

      Google and its Android manufacturers refused to pay a license to use the inventions owned by Rockstar.

      Thus, they are being sued to either pay for the license or to stop using the invention.

      It is simple. Really.

      The outcome will not change that Android is outselling other phones. After all, it is given away for free.

      It will force Google and its Android manufacturers to pay for the Rockstar inventions they are using.
      • Rockstar "Inventors"?

        Really? Read up on your history, see where Android started (even BEFORE Google bought it in 2005). Yep, even then it was in development 2 years before the iPhone.

        The iPhone technically as a semi-finished product came out first (and I say semi-finished because everybody always seems to forget version 1 of iOS - read up on it - iOS wasn't always as good and complete as it is now people) in 2007, while the Android counterpart didn't come out till 2008.

        So all this talk of copying and whatever myths seem to exist that Google copied everything - I say are crap.

        Things are very similar, it's true, but customization with widgets on a proper desktop type system with your choice of whatever keyboard you want to use and no lock-in via Apple software (iTunes) are big differences between the two. Hell, Apple used to have pop up notifications only (how soon you forget), until they found Android's notification system was better and implemented it.

        Rockstar are not inventors people. They are simply a group of companies holding patents (mainly bought ones and very vague ideas that haven't even come to fruition yet). Their sole intent is to stifle others so that their platforms remain relevant. Nothing more.

        Hell, they weren't successful, but LG tried to sue Apple on the first iPhone also because the design was very much based on the Prada of September 2006!

        Looking at the two, you can absolutely see the similarities, but I bet LG just did not patent the necessary things so failed.

        Sorry for the rant, but I'm so sick of the US patent system and patent trolls like Rockstar. Spend the money going to lawyers to truly innovate instead of us consumers wearing the cost of paying all these lawyers, the patent office and intermediaries.

        It's all become one big joke.

        No-one really innovates - please get it out of your heads.
      • Rockstar invented NOTHING

        Rockstar is a leech that buys patents then sues people for using them. This should be illegal. It is extortion pure and simple.