In a bizarre new post on the Official Google Blog, Google Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer David Drummond has published an open letter to Apple and others (Microsoft), suggesting that they’d rather engage in a “hostile, organized campaign against Android” than create innovations themselves.
Drummond is referencing the purchasing of smartphone-related patents to stay ahead of the competition, and is specifically referring to the collective purchase of Novell and Nortel’s old patents by Apple, Microsoft, Oracle and others.
According to Drummond, the companies only purchased these patents “to make sure Google did’t get them,” and as part of a scheme to force Google to pay $15 in licensing fees for every Android device, forcing Android to become too expensive for carriers to license. To back up his conspiracy theory, Drummond offers the following notion:
[Apple and Microsoft] have always been at each other’s throats…when they get into bed together you have to start wondering what’s going on.
“Patents,” utters Drummond, “were meant to encourage innovation, but lately they are being used as a weapon to stop it.” Of course, what Drummond fails to mention is that if Apple, Microsoft, et al had failed to purchase these patents, Google would have bought them and used them in much the same manner.
Of course, while accusing Apple of failing to innovate and purchasing patents to compensate, Drummond fails to realize how stupid it looks to criticize the company responsible for the single most significant series of innovations that the smartphone industry has yet seen. Radically transforming an entire industry and forcing former titans to play “catch-up” is not an insignificant achievement.
Essentially, it sounds more to me like Google would rather whine about not getting the patents themselves than to put time and effort into actually creating new innovations. The argument works both ways, Mr. Drummond.
Drummond’s full letter can be found below:
I have worked in the tech sector for over two decades. Microsoft and Apple have always been at each other’s throats, so when they get into bed together you have to start wondering what’s going on. Here is what’s happening:
Android is on fire. More than 550,000 Android devices are activated every day, through a network of 39 manufacturers and 231 carriers. Android and other platforms are competing hard against each other, and that’s yielding cool new devices and amazing mobile apps for consumers.
But Android’s success has yielded something else: a hostile, organized campaign against Android by Microsoft, Oracle, Apple and other companies, waged through bogus patents.
They’re doing this by banding together to acquire Novell’s old patents (the “CPTN” group including Microsoft and Apple) and Nortel’s old patents (the “Rockstar” group including Microsoft and Apple), to make sure Google didn’t get them; seeking $15 licensing fees for every Android device; attempting to make it more expensive for phone manufacturers to license 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.
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.
This anti-competitive strategy is also escalating the cost of patents way beyond what they’re really worth. Microsoft and Apple’s winning $4.5 billion for Nortel’s patent portfolio was nearly five times larger than the pre-auction estimate of $1 billion. Fortunately, the law frowns on the accumulation of dubious patents for anti-competitive means — which means these deals are likely to draw regulatory scrutiny, and this patent bubble will pop.
We’re not naive; technology is a tough and ever-changing industry and we work very hard to stay focused on our own business and make better products. But in this instance we thought it was important to speak out and make it clear that we’re determined to preserve Android as a competitive choice for consumers, by stopping those who are trying to strangle it.
We’re looking intensely at a number of ways to do that. We’re encouraged that the Department of Justice forced the group I mentioned earlier to license the former Novell patents on fair terms, and that it’s looking into whether Microsoft and Apple acquired the Nortel patents for anti-competitive means. We’re also looking at other ways to reduce the anti-competitive threats against Android by strengthening our own patent portfolio. Unless we act, consumers could face rising costs for Android devices — and fewer choices for their next phone.