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Google and Microsoft trade public punches over 'patent attack'

August 4, 2011 |  3:29 pm

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In this round, Google swung first with a blog post. Then Microsoft came back with a combo of a tweet and an email.

But Google is staying on its feet -- no knockdown here.

After taking it on the chin a bit, Google returned to that first-punch of a blog post and put a bit more weight behind it by way of an update with yet more unfriendly words.

Seemingly undeterred, Microsoft responded with a series of tweets -- we'll think of them as jabs.

Is this a tech version of the epic 1970s fights between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier (pictured above)?

Not yet. But we're sure watching to see who'll throw the next punch.

Google's first swing

On Wednesday, Google's top lawyer, David Drummond, wrote a blog post titled "When Patents Attack Android" in which he accused Microsoft -- along with Apple and Oracle -- of launching "a hostile, organized campaign" that seeks to "strangle" the tech giant's Android mobile OS, which is the most popular operating system worldwide.

And the biggest weapon in this fight, Drummond said, are patents.

"Patents were meant to encourage innovation," he said "but lately they are being used as a weapon to stop it," citing the team-up of Apple, Microsoft, Sony, Research in Motion and EMC in their $4.5-billion purchase of the highly coveted Nortel mobile patents.

"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," Drummond wrote.

Microsoft's combo: tweets and an email

In response to Drummond's post, Microsoft lawyer Brad Smith wrote on Twitter:

Google says we bought Novell patents to keep them from Google. Really? We asked them to bid jointly with us. They said no.

A heck of a tweet, essentially refuting Drummond's entire post. But it didn't end there.

Frank X. Shaw, who identifies himself on Twitter as the "currently lead corporate communications for microsoft" and a "longtime social media participant," sent a tweet of his own addressing Drummond's Google blog post.

Free advice for David Drummond – next time check with Kent Walker before you blog.

And in that tweet, Shaw also attached a screen shot of an email sent to Brad Smith of Microsoft from Kent Walker, a senior vice president and lawyer at Google, which was sent Oct. 28, 2010. The screen shot reads:

Brad –

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you -- I came down with a 24-hour bug on the way back from San Antonio. After talking with people here, it sounds as though for various reasons a joint bid wouldn't be advisable for us on this one. But I appreciate your flagging it, and we’re open to discussing other similar opportunities in the future.

I hope the rest of your travels go well, and I look forward to seeing you again soon.

– Kent

Google's second swing

But Drummond didn't throw in the towel after that. Instead, he went back to the blog post that started the back-and-forth and on Thursday, added an update, that said:

It's not surprising that Microsoft would want to divert attention by pushing a false "gotcha!" while failing to address the substance of the issues we raised. If you think about it, it's obvious why we turned down Microsoft's offer. Microsoft's objective has been to keep from Google and Android device-makers any patents that might be used to defend against their attacks. A joint acquisition of the Novell patents that gave all parties a license would have eliminated any protection these patents could offer to Android against attacks from Microsoft and its bidding partners. Making sure that we would be unable to assert these patents to defend Android -- and having us pay for the privilege -- must have seemed like an ingenious strategy to them. We didn't fall for it.

Ultimately, the U.S. Department of Justice intervened, forcing Microsoft to sell the patents it bought and demanding that the winning group (Microsoft, Oracle, Apple, EMC) give a license to the open-source community, changes the DoJ said were "necessary to protect competition and innovation in the open source software community." This only reaffirms our point: Our competitors are waging a patent war on Android and working together to keep us from getting patents that would help balance the scales.

Microsoft throws a few more jabs

Shaw responded, firing off a series of tweets that said:

Hello again David Drummond. This is going to take a few tweets, so here we go. Let's look at what Google does not dispute in their reply.

We offered Google the opportunity to bid with us to buy the Nortel patents; they said no.

Why? BECAUSE they wanted to buy something that they could use to assert against someone else.

SO partnering with others & reducing patent liability across industry is not something they wanted to help do

If Drummond, or any other Google or Microsoft officials take to blog posts or Twitter -- or Google+ -- we'll keep you posted. But while this round of the fight is public (and thus maybe a bit unprofessional) this isn't the end or the beginning of spats between tech giants over mobile technology.

Billions of dollars are at stake, and suits seem to be filed between the behemoth companies with regularity.

What may matter most, in the end, is which phone consumers like you end up with in your pocket or purse -- an Android phone, an Apple iPhone, a Windows Phone handset or a device from any of their competitors.

RELATED:

Google accuses Apple, Microsoft of waging patent war

Oracle wants to question Google's Larry Page in Android patent lawsuit

Apple, Microsoft group's $4.5-billion bid on Nortel patents approved by courts

-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Photo: Heavyweight boxer Joe Frazier grimaces after Muhammad Ali lands a blow to Frazier's head during their heavyweight bout in Manila on Oct. 1, 1975. Ali won the fight after Frazier's manager stopped the fight in the 14th round. Credit: Associated Press

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