Google Stole These Ideas To Make Android A Success, According To Patent Lawsuits

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Photo: Flickr/holisticmonkey

Google’s Android operating system is now involved in 37 patent infringement lawsuits.All were filed within the last year.

Not all of the lawsuits accuse Android of infringement — some are countersuits filed in response to a previous suit against Android.

But it highlights the legal uncertainty around the open source operating system, and it could make new customers skittish about licensing the Google mobile platform. It also could end up costing current Android customers millions of dollars.

Multipoint touch screens.

This is Apple's biggie: it covers multitouch screens. It brought this one up in October against Motorola, which had previously sued Apple for other patents. It's #7,663,607 and called, simply, 'Multipoint touchscreen.'

Translating finger touches into computer commands.

This is also related to multitouch, but describes how the phone translates gestures into commands.

Last March, Apple accused HTC of violating 20 patents including this one. It's #7,479,949, and it's called 'Touch screen device, method, and graphical user interface for determining commands by applying heuristics.' Apple is also using this one against Motorola.

Using a touch gesture to unlock a phone.

Another Apple patent used in the HTC suit was #7,657,849, 'Unlocking a device by performing gestures on an unlock image.'

Scrolling on a touch screen.

This Apple patent describes how scrolling happens on a touch screen -- for instance, the faster you move your finger, the faster the items on the screen scroll by. It seems obvious now, but remember how cool it was the first time you saw it on the iPhone?

It's number 7,469,381, called 'List scrolling and document translation, scaling, and rotation on a touch-screen display.' Apple is using it against HTC.

Interestingly, the patent application has what looks to be an iPad -- but was granted in December 2008, almost a year before Apple unveiled the iPad

Turning the backlight off automatically after a certain time.

One of the biggest drains on a phone's battery life is the backlight on the display. Apple patented a method for phones to turn off the backlight after the phone sits idle for a certain amount of time. The patent is #7,633,076 and it's called 'Automated Response To And Sensing Of User Activity In Portable Devices.' It's also named in the HTC suit.

Updating apps without running an installation program.

You have to go into the way-back machine for this patent, #5,379.430, which was granted to Taligent in 1993. Taligent was a spin-off from Apple and was trying to create a new operating system with -- of all companies -- IBM. But Taligent dissolved in the late 1990s. Now Apple owns the patent, and is using it against Motorola.

Generating meeting requests and calendar entries from a mobile device.

Microsoft got this patent way back in 2002, which shows you how long the company has been trying to compete in mobile. It's #6,370,566, entitled 'Generating Meeting Requests and Group Scheduling from a Mobile Device.'

Microsoft sued Motorola last October over 9 patents used by Android phones like the Droid, including this one.

Wirelessly transferring email.

NTP owns a bunch of patents related to wireless email, and is best known for suing RIM a few years ago -- and winning a huge $600 million settlement. Last July, it sued Motorola, LG and other companies over Android, and threw in Apple and Microsoft as well.

Who wins in all these patent suits? The lawyers.

Intellectual property gadfly Florian Mueller first pointed out the 37 lawsuits Android faces in a blog post yesterday.

He blames the way Google manages Android code and the fact that it doesn't have a very big patent portfolio, which would help it reach cross-licence deals with big companies like Apple and Microsoft.

But a lot of the patents cover functions that have nothing to do with mobile devices specifically, and have been around for years. For instance, one of the patents Microsoft is suing about has to do with how operating systems translate long filenames into short filenames -- Microsoft got the patent way back in 1996, and has used it in legal actions against Linux before.

A lot of the lawsuits we didn't name here also come from patent trolls -- small companies that have never created a product, but instead hoard patents in hopes of striking licensing deals with deep-pocketed giants.

Patents were originally designed to spur innovation by protecting inventors and giving them time to capitalise on their inventions. Now, it seems to be all about shakedowns and stalling competition.

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