In a surprisingly candid move, Google Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer David Drummond published an opinionated post on the company’s official blog contending that its Android mobile operating system is under “attack” from a “hostile, organized campaign against Android by Microsoft, Oracle, Apple and other companies, waged through bogus patents.”
Drummond’s post is in reference to last week’s sale of Nortel’s patent portfolio to a consortium of Google’s competitors. The purchase of these patents threatens Android’s dominant share of the smartphone OS market by making the operating system more expensive for phone manufacturers to license.
Drummond calls this consortium’s strategy “anti-competitive,” contending that the winning $4.5 billion bid inflated the price of the patents “way beyond what they’re really worth,” which pushed the portfolio out of Google’s reach. He’s not the only one who feels that way; federal antitrust officials are investigating the deal.
Pending the outcome of antitrust investigations, it’s clear that this deal puts Google and Android on the defensive. Google’s position to license its mobile OS across a wide range of platforms is both a blessing and a curse. The range of options for consumers has helped Android net nearly 50% of the smartphone market, but if the cost of licensing becomes prohibitive to cash-strapped hardware manufacturers, that market will dry up quickly, and the profits for Android software developers will go right along with it. Apple doesn’t have to worry about such margins, and other phone manufacturers might have to start building side businesses on WebOS or Windows Phone 7 to remain profitable, which is just what HP and Microsoft have been waiting for.
Meanwhile, Google and Apple are said to be squaring off to duel over another large patent portfolio owned by InterDigital. Patents were intended to protect innovation, but they’re certainly proving costly and distracting to the software industry’s leading innovators.