Google accuses Apple, Microsoft of waging patent war
Google just tossed gas on the already heated patent wars over smart-phone technologies.
Google's top lawyer, David Drummond, on Wednesday called out its competitors, including Apple, Microsoft and Oracle, for waging what it calls "a hostile, organized campaign" designed to "strangle" the Internet search giant's Android mobile software, which now powers nearly 50% of the world's smart phones, according to some estimates.
In an explosive blog post, "When Patents Attack Android," Drummond said he has worked in the technology sector for more than two decades, and "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."
What's going on, he wrote, is that Google's rivals are trying to make Android phones harder for manufacturers to sell and more expensive for consumers to buy.
Drummond called attention to the coalition that Apple and Microsoft formed to buy Novell patents and Nortel patents. The "anti-competitive strategy" to buy patents has driven up prices, he said, predicting that "this patent bubble will pop."
"Patents were meant to encourage innovation," Drummond wrote, "but lately they are being used as a weapon to stop it."
He ended the post this way: "We're also looking at other ways to reduce the anti-competitive threats against Android by strengthening our own patent portfolio. Unless we act, consumers could face rising costs for Android devices -- and fewer choices for their next phone."
Google is trying to buy patents to beef up its anemic patent portfolio. Its rivals outbid the company last month in the biggest patent auction in history, $4.5 billion for more than 6,000 patents and applications for wireless technologies purchased from the bankrupt Nortel. Published reports say the U.S. Justice Department is examining the sale to see whether it would harm competition in the smart-phone industry.
Google this week hired away one of the Federal Trade Commission's top patent lawyers. It also bought more than 1,000 patents from IBM Corp. to defend itself from an onslaught of patent-infringement litigation. It's embroiled in high-stakes patent litigation with Oracle. Oracle sued Google last year in federal court, claiming its Android mobile device software infringes Oracle's Java patents, which it picked up in 2010 when it bought Sun Microsystems Inc. Oracle is seeking billions of dollars in damages. The case is set for trial in October.
An Oracle spokeswoman declined to comment on Drummond's statements. An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment. A Microsoft spokeswoman declined to comment.
Said intellectual property analyst Florian Mueller: "The mobile phone sector is notoriously litigious. Unfortunately, it's a tough area for new entrants who don't have a strong patent portfolio."
-- Jessica Guynn
Photo: The T-Mobile G1 Android-powered phone, the first phone powered by Android, in September 2008. Credit: Mark Lennihan / Associated Press