If this keeps up the world is going to end up feeling sorry for one of the Internet’s richest, most profitable companies, but that’s what the recent patent controversy is doing for the image of Google.
Google's cause cÃ©lÃ¨bre is what it calls the ‘attack of the patents’, an alleged conspiracy by its biggest rivals to slow the Android sales success using legal action that amounts to industrial-scale patent trolling.
Company CLO (chief legal officer, don’t mess with me) David Drummond aired this theory pretty in a strongly-worded blog post this week that left little room for misunderstanding.
“Android is on fire. More than 550,000 Android devices are activated every day, through a network of 39 manufacturers and 231 carriers,” he wrote.
“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.”
Having bought a pile of patents in what was supposed to be a firesale of meat from the Nortel carcass, these companies are now using the same IP to hold back Android in the courts, he claimed.
“Our competitors want to impose a “tax” for these dubious patents that makes Android devices more expensive for consumers.”
He has a point, witness the perfectly legal but incongruous $15 levy Microsoft now collects from Asian smartphone vendors HTC and, reportedly, Samsung, for every Android smartphone they sell.
As many bloggers pointed out at the time of the July deal, Microsoft is probably making more money from Android than its own, hitherto rather rubbish platform, Windows Phone.
You'd feel more sympathy for Google were it not for the fact that, when it suits the company, it is quite happy to sue its rivals for their alleged patent infringements. Google would argue that its pursuit of Bing (to pick one example) was justified, and it might be right, but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that what is wrong is not Apple, Microsoft, Oracle or Google, but the whole US patent system.
As The Guardian recently showed in a popular graphic, they are all suing each other anyway. Why should Google be exempt from this madness?
Drummond himself linked to an article from The Economist, a title that has long argued for reform of a system that seems to have turned into a business model that rewards the aggressive over the worthy.
Often it is cheaper to settle rather than fight on principle and what the US needs is someone willing to take the latter, more difficult course, and stand their ground.
What we really need it not plaintive bleating about Apple and Microsoft tapping Android users but some intellectual integrity. If the system is buckled then it didn’t become so at the point Nortel’s IP went on sale.
The open and free source worlds must look on this scrap with smug disdain. The rest of us just wonder where the real pressure for reform is going to come from in a country where compromise has recently become a dirty word.