Android under attack by British Telecom over patent infringement

by Kristen Nicole

Google faces several Android-related patent lawsuits from a number of its rivals, including Apple, Microsoft and Oracle. But the latest to take Google to court is British Telecom, with claims that several Google services violate a variety of their patents. Filed in the U.S. District Court in Deleware, the suit is seeking unspecified damages and an injunction. No word on whether or not BT will be filing a parallel suit in European courts, but Google is not thrilled either way, saying “We believe these claims are without merit, and we will defend vigorously against them.”

There’s a range of patents involved in this case, relating to location-based services, navigation guidance information and personalized access to both services and content. BT is going after several aspects of Google’s methods used for Android app downloads, Google Maps’ ability to provide information available at different zoom levels, and even Android’s ability to allow a music download if a smartphone is connected to a Wi-Fi network, but not when the device only has access to 3G. BT claims a portfolio of about 5,600 patents and patent applications, several of which the communications firm has invested in with high hopes for a mobile economy.

The latest attack on Android comes in the middle of Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility, a deal that’s expected to build Google’s defenses against rampant patent attacks. The mobile war has become a fight over patents, taking legal course to determine who controls market access and revenues. Google attempted something quite different with Android, combining many of its earlier projects (search, mail, etc.) with a new mobile platform for a redesigned smartphone strategy. The result is an innovative market that leaves plenty open to interpretation, criticism and attack.

With several facets of Android’s ecosystem coming under fire, one patent spectator thinks the oncoming lawsuits could force Google to change its distribution methods at the OS level, or shell out some serious royalty payments, which many OEMs already do for Microsoft. “With so many major patent holders asserting their rights, obligations to pay royalties may force Google to change its Android licensing model and pass royalties on to device makers,” writes patent expert Florian Mueller.