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Microsoft’s Android lawsuit — payback for Mot’s WinMo defection?

Oct 4, 2010 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 3 views

Google responded to Microsoft's patent infringement lawsuit against Motorola over Android smartphones, saying the legal action “threatens innovation.” Meanwhile, analysts speculate on the timing and target of the lawsuit, with one analyst calling it payback against Motorola for abandoning Windows Mobile, and another suggesting the lawsuit is covering fire for Microsoft's upcoming Windows Phone 7 release.

When Microsoft filed its patent infringement suit versus Motorola Oct. 1, it joined Apple and Oracle in their attack against Google's Android operating system, which has come on strong in the latter half of 2010.

Microsoft claimed Motorola's Android smartphones violated nine software patents related to synchronizing e-mail, calendars and contacts; scheduling meetings; and notifying applications of changes in signal strength and battery power.

Motorola makes the popular Motorola Droid, Droid X, and pictured Droid 2 Android handsets, which leverage Microsoft's Exchange ActiveSync for messaging synchronization, among other popular technologies that stretch back several years.

Google "disappointed" — and defiant

A Google spokesperson told eWEEK about the new suit: "We are disappointed that Microsoft prefers to compete over old patents rather than new products. Sweeping software patent claims like these threaten innovation. While we are not a party to this lawsuit, we stand behind the Android platform and the partners who have helped us to develop it."

Microsoft's suit echoes what Apple did with HTC back in March. Instead of suing Google to hinder or halt Android, Apple sued HTC, maker of popular Android phones such as the Droid Incredible and HTC Evo 4G. Apple claimed that HTC violated 20 of its patents surrounding the iPhone's interface, architecture, and hardware.

Interestingly, Microsoft could have followed Apple in suing HTC, but it instead struck an intellectual property deal in which HTC is paying to use Microsoft smartphone software in its Android handsets.

Clearly, no such deal could be reached with Motorola. Perhaps Microsoft chose not to pursue one. Why is that?

Payback time?

Search Engine Land's Greg Sterling suggested Microsoft is engaging in a bit of old-fashioned payback for Motorola abandoning the Windows Mobile platform, which is hemorrhaging market share. Also, Android relies on Linux kernel v2.6 for core system services, and Microsoft hasn't been shy about its disdain for Linux, or its penchant for suing over it.

A much more practical reason, noted IDC analyst Al Hilwa, is that Microsoft is on the verge of launching Windows Phone 7 this month. "Android was a great gift to the industry, but lawsuits like this are beginning to throw doubts on its provenance," Hilwa wrote in a note to eWEEK.

"Microsoft is of course launching Windows Phone 7 for which it charges handset makers some dollars," continued Hilwa. "The lawsuits around Android make the point that device licenses for the technology stack may be viewed as inexpensive when measured against the legal fees that might be incurred. What does Microsoft really want?"

What Microsoft really wants is to impede and impinge Android, which this year passed Windows Mobile in smartphone market share. ComScore said Android grew its U.S. smartphone market share from 12 percent to 17 percent in the three-month period ending in July, vaulting over Microsoft's Windows Mobile, which has 11.8 percent.

Android is activated on 200,000 devices per day, and there are more than 60 handsets running the open-source platform. Microsoft wants to plant a protective stake in the ground for its Windows Phone 7 launch.

Oracle, too, sued over Android, though without smartphones to sell, the database software giant targeted Google for its use of Java technology in building Android. That use is questionable to be sure, with Google doing an end run around the Java construct to build its own platform. But Oracle just wants a piece of the red-hot Android action, not prevent phone makers from selling devices.

Interestingly, while Google released Android under the open-source model of free, it now seems phone makers and eventually Google itself will pay millions of dollars to use the OS. File this under "when free isn't really free."

"Patents are the way of tech today, whether we like it or not," Hilwa added. "Companies regularly engage in licensing discussions and deals with their partners and competitors, who are often the same. These lawsuits come up when there is a breakdown in the discussions."

Clint Boulton is a regular contributor to our sister publication eWEEK.

This article was originally published on and has been donated to the open source community by QuinStreet Inc. Please visit for up-to-date news and articles about Linux and open source.

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