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The rise of Android’s open platform, plus Google’s stance on the patent system, makes the company a prime target for patent warfare. Google’s attracted the wrong sort of attention from every major rival including Apple, Microsoft and Oracle. It’s raised questions about Google’s position on patents, as the company feels they are an unnecessary obstacle to innovation, as emphasized by Android’s own lack of protective patents. But the growing riff amongst mobile platform competitors has made the debate a moral issue, pitting Microsoft’s perspective against Google’s.
Google counsel breaks the silence
After last week’s manifesto from Microsoft patent attorney Horacio Gutierrez, Google was made out to be the bad guy. Guiterrez’s widely-cited statement lays out the reasons why Microsoft’s licensing agreements, which pay out royalties for every Android device sold by OEMs, is a healthy solution to the patent problem. But Google doesn’t think Microsoft is playing fair, and while the Android maker had been relatively silent on the patent licensing woes, they’ve finally broken the silence in an in-depth interview in The San Francisco Chronicle over the weekend.
Google’s patent counsel Tim Porter doesn’t think Microsoft’s solution is a healthy one, sharing his hope that “companies working out solutions between themselves is the result. The problem is if those deals are based on the threats of excluding products from countries or excessive damages, based on vague or overbroad patents. That leads to skewed settlements and skewed licensing agreements.
“At the end of the day, my hope is people can reach sensible agreements and everyone can move forward and make great products.”
The skewed results of an intensifying patent war brings attention back to the patenting process itself, especially in the US. Porter’s interview tackles this topic as well, discussing the America Invents Act in particular. It was recently passed in an effort to reform the nation’s patent laws, but for Porter, it’s “maybe a good first step...It doesn’t address the standards for patenting, it doesn’t address vagueness and over broadness. And it doesn’t address excessive damages.”
Lesson learned from PC days?
The mobile patent wars may be detrimental to the processes around intellectual property, and dangerous territory for the key players involved. But it may be consumers that are truly affected in the end, often paying more for a device that faces obligations to multiple patent holders. Business has evolved around patent lawsuits, and some companies have emerged to expressly manage this aspect of today’s corporate culture. For new technologies in particular, patents have caused an uproar in a given industry. We saw a similar struggle in the early days of the PC. The mobile sector will follow a similar path, but hopefully everyone, from corporate bigwigs to end users, have learned a lesson or two from the past two decades.