The Android patent attacks against Microsoft are unfair

Critics who are generally mad at Microsoft or the patent system are painting a false David-and-Goliath picture

It's not often that Microsoft is a victim, but in this case, it has been persecuted over its efforts to collect royalties on the patents it holds related to Android devices. Microsoft signed up two small Asian manufacturers to pay licensing fees for those patents, two weeks after HTC -- one of the largest Android device makers -- agreed to pay.

When the HTC license was announced, many of us in the media guffawed how Microsoft makes more money from its Android patents than it does from its own Windows Phone 7 business. But when two small companies agreed to pay license fees to Microsoft this week, the knives came out quickly, with "David versus Goliath" diatribes across the blogosphere -- even here at InfoWorld -- using phrases like "caves to Microsoft pressure," "legal steamroller snagged two small players," and "scare as many tiny Android hardware manufacturers into submission as it possibly can."

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It's patently unfair, if you'll pardon the pun.

Tech companies routinely enforce their patents. Why should Microsoft not do the same? Despite the dark language suggesting Microsoft is stomping all over the little guy, that's just nonsense. HTC is no little guy, and it agreed to the patents. HTC is in a patent fight with Apple over gesture interfaces -- indicating that HTC doesn't just roll over when it thinks a patent claim is unfair. Microsoft sued Motorola Mobility over Android patents as well; clearly, it's fiction that Microsoft is tackling the little guys and avoiding the big ones, as my colleague Woody Leonhard suggested this week. In fact, pretty much everyone in the mobile industry has sued everyone else, as they all seek advantage in this growing market. The Guardian U.K. has a great chart showing this web of patent intrigue.

And I've heard no one suggest that Microsoft's patents are dubious or should be declared invalid, nor that Microsoft is submarining Android manufacturers by acting as a patent troll.

Let's be honest: Most of the criticism of Microsoft's Android patents is based on one of two things: a dislike of Microsoft or a dislike of the technology patents system. Microsoft certainly has done much to annoy users, and during some parts of its history, it has crossed the line into monopolistic behavior. The patent system is clearly broken and needs reform, making it harder to get patents for digital analogs of real-world metaphors and processes.

It's fine to criticize Microsoft when it acts badly and to blast the patent system for creating a mess that enriches only lawyers. But to use these issues as a proxy to attack Microsoft, or any company, because you don't like that vendor is simply wrong. Stop it.

This article, "The Android patent attacks against Microsoft are unfair," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.