Google accuses Microsoft, Apple of patent conspiracy

The company's legal chief has written a blog post accusing Google's rivals of arranging 'a hostile, organised campaign against Android' using 'bogus patents'

Google's legal chief has attacked Microsoft, Oracle and Apple for ganging up on Android using massive acquisitions of patents.

David Drummond

Google's chief legal officer David Drummond has attacked Microsoft, Apple and Oracle for waging a 'hostile, organised campaign' against Android. Photo credit: Google

The company's rivals have arranged "a hostile, organised campaign against Android... waged through bogus patents", chief legal officer David Drummond said in a blog post on Wednesday. He specifically referred to Microsoft and Apple's involvement in the purchase of patent holdings from Novell and Nortel.

However, Microsoft was quick to point out that Google had been invited to join the temporary consortium established to pick up the Novell patents, and had declined.

"I have worked in the tech sector for over two decades. Microsoft and Apple have always been at each other's throats, so when they get into bed together you have to start wondering what's going on. Here is what's happening," Drummond's post began.

Drummond noted that Android was enjoying great success, with 550,000 device activations daily, but said this success had yielded "a hostile, organised campaign against Android by Microsoft, Oracle, Apple and other companies, waged through bogus patents".

Oracle is one of the companies in the CPTN Holdings consortium, which bought the Novell patents, and is separately embroiled in a patent suit against Google over Android's Java implementation.

In addition, Drummond called out Microsoft for "seeking $15 (£9) licensing fees for every Android device, attempting to make it more expensive for phone manufacturers to license Android (which we provide free of charge) than Windows Phone 7".

Microsoft has indeed been cutting many licensing deals with device makers over their products' use of Android, which Microsoft claims infringes on its patents.

Patent weapons

In the post, Drummond also noted Microsoft's patent suits against Android device manufacturers Motorola and Barnes & Noble, and Apple's similar suits against Samsung and HTC. "Patents were meant to encourage innovation, but lately they are being used as a weapon to stop it," he argued.

Patents were meant to encourage innovation, but lately they are being used as a weapon to stop it.

– David Drummond, Google

"A smartphone might involve as many as 250,000 (largely questionable) patent claims, and our competitors want to impose a 'tax' for these dubious patents that makes Android devices more expensive for consumers," he wrote. "They want to make it harder for manufacturers to sell Android devices. Instead of competing by building new features or devices, they are fighting through litigation."

Drummond also claimed that this strategy has led to a patent price bubble. He cited the example of the Nortel patents, which were initially valued at $1bn and eventually sold for $4.5bn. He said regulatory scrutiny would "pop" the bubble as "the law frowns on the accumulation of dubious patents for anti-competitive means". The US Department of Justice has already forced the CPTN consortium to license its newly-acquired Novell patents on fair terms, and the same agency is now looking into the Nortel buy.

Swift rebuttals

The attack by Google's legal chief drew a swift rebuttal from Microsoft. "Google says we bought Novell patents to keep them from Google. Really? We asked them to bid jointly with us. They said no," Microsoft's general counsel Brad Smith said in a post to Twitter.

Smith was joined by Microsoft's chief press spokesman, Frank Shaw, who posted a screenshot on Twitter of an email sent by Google general counsel Kent Walker to Smith. In the email, Walker said that "for various reasons, a joint bid wouldn't be advisable for us on this one".

"Free advice for David Drummond — next time check with Kent Walker before you blog," Shaw wrote.

Walker has himself expressed a similar view on patents to that blogged by Drummond on Wednesday. Last week, Bloomberg quoted Walker as saying: "The tech industry has a significant problem. Software patents are kind of gumming up the works of innovation."

That said, Drummond noted in his blog post that Google is "also looking at other ways to reduce the anti-competitive threats against Android by strengthening our own patent portfolio". This would chime with the company's purchase in July of more than 1,000 IBM patents, many of which are applicable in smartphones.


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