The validity of Android has been questioned in numerous patent cases, with Apple blocking sales of the Samsung Galaxy Tab in Australia, Microsoft collecting licensing payments from at least five Android vendors, and Oracle suing Google over use of Java.
Still another example led Google chief legal officer David Drummond to accuse rivals of teaming up against Android. Drummond called out Microsoft and Apple for teaming up to purchase Nortel patents for $4.5 billion, beating out a $900 million bid from Google.
In a post on Google's official blog titled 'When patents attack Android', Drummond bemoans that Google's rivals bought Nortel patents "to make sure Google didn't get them," while "seeking $15 licensing fees for every Android device; attempting to make it more expensive for phone manufacturers to licence Android (which we provide free of charge) than Windows Mobile; and even suing Barnes & Noble, HTC, Motorola, and Samsung. Patents were meant to encourage innovation, but lately they are being used as a weapon to stop it."
Drummond promised that Google is "looking at other ways to reduce the anti-competitive threats against Android by strengthening our own patent portfolio," while warning that continued patent problems will force consumers to pay more for Android devices.
Rivals Microsoft, Oracle and Apple argue that Google and Android vendors have stolen their intellectual property. Apple, for example, has argued that Android phones and tablets mimic the appearance of the iPhone and iPad.
Apple's acting CEO Tim Cook said in a recent earnings call that "we love competition. We think it's great for us and for everyone. But we want people to invent their own stuff and we're going to make sure that we defend our portfolio perfectly," according to a transcript on SeekingAlpha.com.
After Google posted Drummond's blog on its main Twitter feed, software consultant and self-described "Windows enthusiast" Robert McLaws responded "@google Hey, great post on patents and innovation. Is that your explanation for blatantly stealing Sun's Java source code too? #dontbeevil."
When Java was owned by Sun, Google rejected an offer to license the technology for $100 million, and now Oracle is in court trying to make Google pay up.
Microsoft, meanwhile, may actually make more money through licensing fees paid by Android vendors than it does through sales of its own Windows Phone 7.
The software patent system has many critics, particularly when it comes to "non-practicing entities," outfits that exist only to acquire patents and sue real tech companies. One such entity won a $5 million verdict against Google over its use of Linux.
But Microsoft, Oracle and Apple are not mere patent trolls, and have the financial resources - and perhaps enough intellectual property - to hamstring Android's rise.
"Android is on fire. More than 550,000 Android devices are activated every day, through a network of 39 manufacturers and 231 carriers," Drummond writes in the Google blog.
"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. 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."