Photo: nateOne via flickr
Microsoft signed a patent licensing deal with Samsung this morning that will cover all Android devices that Samsung ships.In a statement emailed to the press, a Google spokesperson likened the deal to extortion:
This is the same tactic we’ve seen time and again from Microsoft. Failing to succeed in the smartphone market, they are resorting to legal measures to extort profit from others’ achievements and hinder the pace of innovation. We remain focused on building new technology and supporting Android partners.
This echoes what Google’s chief counsel David Drummond said about Microsoft’s strategy right before Google bought Motorola, although he used words like “tax.”
“Extort” is quite a bit stronger.
It also makes Google look like whiners.
Some points to keep in mind:
- Google plays the patent game, too. The patent system may be broken. But Google knows how the system works and has been working within it for years. The original patent on Google’s search algorithm was owned by Stanford University; Google gave Stanford some equity in exchange for it. Google also reached a patent settlement back in 2004 with Yahoo over ad-serving technology — a patent that Yahoo got when it bought Overture, who pioneered the basic idea of search advertising, which is still where Google earns most of its money. Just a few weeks ago, Google turned some of its patents over to HTC so HTC could use them to fight a lawsuit from Apple.
- Microsoft did IP licensing deals long before smartphones. Seeking patent licensing deals isn’t some new tactic that Microsoft rolled out just to get back at Android — it’s exactly the same thing Microsoft did with Linux and other open-source software back in the early 2000s — in fact, Samsung and Microsoft had this exact kind of deal in place in 2007. Like it or hate it, it’s not about stalling innovation in the smartphone market. It’s about Microsoft raising the price of “free” software. (From Microsoft’s point of view, that’s perfectly justified because the only way “free” software is free is because the people who build it steal ideas that Microsoft and other for-profit companies have invested in. Argue about it in comments.)
- The main innovation in Android was its business model. This is the real reason Google is so angry — Android’s main innovation was the fact that Google gave it away and let carriers and handset makers customise it. In terms of technical innovation, it didn’t drive the market forward from what Apple introduced with the iPhone a year before, although it did deliver those advances to a much larger audience, faster. (Apple has argued that a lot of the ideas for Android actually STARTED at Apple, where Andy Rubin worked early in his career.) Microsoft may have been years late to come out with a modern smartphone platform, but Windows Phone is actually innovative. Apart from the touch screen, it doesn’t really work or look like the iPhone or Android phones.
Make no mistake: Microsoft is not innocent here. There’s more than a touch of evil genius in using patents to make a free product cost money. Suing resellers, particularly non-technology companies like Barnes & Noble, is a bit of a lowdown tactic — why not just take the fight to Google directly?
But Google gains nothing by pointing this out. It won’t sway a single company from signing a licensing deal when Microsoft comes knocking, and it certainly won’t convince a single consumer to buy an Android phone.
All it does is make Google look petty. The company should take its own advice and get back to building new technology.
Or else, Google should refuse to take Microsoft’s licence when it comes knocking to do a deal with Motorola, then let the whole thing play out in court.
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