Patently unfair: Google's patent half-truths come home to roost
In the matter of a few short hours on Wednesday night, Google's seemingly well-intentioned and cogent argument against its competitors vis a vis Android blew up in its face. In the fallout, the search giant now appears to be speaking out of both sides of its mouth and may have strengthened its competitors' claims against it.
See, Google's chief legal officer David Drummond argued that there's a "a hostile, organized campaign against Android" using patents he calls "bogus." This came just days after it lost its bid for a host of Nortel patents to a consortium of companies that included Apple, EMC, Ericsson, Microsoft, Research in Motion, and Sony.
Drummond's argument did focus heavily on this deal, calling the $4.5 billion paid overpriced. Google began its bids at $900 million for these patents, but it's here where his doublespeak begins, leaving out some very important facts.
Accusations and Half-Truths
While he claims that the patents were overpriced, the company had no problem taking its bidding up to $3.14 billion, no small change for apparently bogus intellectual property. Drummond writes it so it sounds like the patents should have been priced at $1 billion, however Nortel set that price as the opening bid for its portfolio, not any type of final price.
Google's case here got even shaker as Microsoft executives began reading (and responding) to Drummond's missive. General counsel Brad Smith was the first to respond, shooting back in a terse tweet the following:
"Google says we bought Novell patents to keep them from Google. Really? We asked them to bid jointly with us. They said no."
Whoa. So, let me get this straight: the exact patents Drummond just made a stink about in its rant on the patent system could have been Google's with Microsoft, and all they had to do was say yes? Oh, it gets even better. Corporate communications lead Frank Shaw hits it out of the park by showing an actual email proving that Redmond did reach out.
The coup d'etat. Google goes from playing offense to suddenly finding itself on the losing end of a battle it probably will not win. What did this gain the company? Absolutely nothing other than to piss its competitors off even more. Bad, bad move.
Android's Little Patent Problem
Look, no matter whether you're an Android fan or not, it's becoming increasingly hard to argue that Google has a serious issue when it comes to owning the intellectual property that powers it. A host of companies -- in fact, making for very strange bedfellows at times -- are asking for their fair due.
I have serious problems with patent holding companies, and do think that reform is vital to make it much harder to sue for the use of patents that you aren't using yourself in an actual product. The purpose of the patent system is to protect your business interests, not make a profit.
What is becoming increasingly apparent however is that Google has shown little regard for work that isn't theirs when it comes to Android. While it may disagree with the current system, the lack of sensible reform gives it no right to go out and break the law and infringe on others' rights. Put it this way, if some company used Google's patented search technologies, the company would come down harder than the Japanese at Pearl Harbor.
Thus, these companies are turning to the courts to force Google to pay. The fact that Android is given away for free while other platforms are not put its competitors at a disadvantage. Doesn't it now make more sense why these companies are upset? Android's running away with the market using their work, and these companies see no benefit.
Google Needs a Dose of Reality
Drummond argues that licensing will result in Android devices costing more. To that I say, oh well. Welcome to the real world, where there's a price for everything. Google built a business on other people's work. While we could argue the validity of a lot of patents -- as my colleague Joe says, maybe 30 percent of them -- many of them are indeed of value, and those rights holders deserve to be compensated.
I will leave you with this: for those of you who argue that Google is in the right here, how come its and others' successes in the courtroom over intellectual property claims concerning Android have been few and far between, if at all? When the same result is happening over and over again, it's pretty much a pattern.
Google failed to build licensing costs into Android, and is now paying the piper for it. While there is need for patent reform in this country, the company doesn't have solid ground to stand on in order to make its case.
In the end, this debate really comes down to a company that practically never loses being dealt a bad hand. This is reality, Mountain View. Now deal with it.