Today the tech news has been abuzz with a post by Google’s senior vice president and chief legal officer, David Drummond, where he claimed that Microsoft and Apple were ganging up together to attack Android through the use of bogus patents.
I wasn’t going to write anything about this because the whole argument from Google seemed to be nothing more than the whining from a scared company who hadn’t gotten to keep all its marbles; but then I read a great post by John Gruber at Daring Fireball that laid it out quite nicely.
So if Google had acquired the rights to these patents, that would have been OK. But when others acquired them, it’s a “hostile, organized campaign”. It’s OK for Google to undermine Microsoft’s for-pay OS licensing business by giving Android away for free, but it’s not OK for Microsoft to undermine Google’s attempts to give away for free an OS that violates patents belonging to Microsoft?
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.
First, the “estimate” of $1 billion was partially set by Google itself.
Then when the auction actually started, it’s OK for Google to bid over $3.14 billion, but when Apple and Microsoft bid $4.5 billion, that’s “way beyond what they’re really worth”. And if these patents are “bogus”, why was Google willing to pay anything for them, let alone pi billion dollars?
No one other than Nathan Myrvold and his cronies sees the U.S. patent system as functioning properly, but Google’s hypocrisy here is absurd. Google isn’t arguing against a handful of never-should-have-been-issued software patents. They’re not arguing against patent trolls like Myrvold and his shell companies like Lodsys — companies that have no products of their own, no actual inventions, just patents for ideas for products. They’re effectively arguing against the idea of the patent system itself, simply because Android violates a bunch of patents held by Google’s competitors. It’s not “patents” that are attacking Android. It’s competing companies whose patents Google has violated — and whose business Android undermines — who are attacking Android.
I might not agree with Gruber very often but in this case …. what he said.