Is Microsoft trying to kill Google's Android OS by blasting lawsuits at device sellers like Barnes & Noble and device makers like Foxconn and Inventec? I don't think so. The software giant is more likely trying to make a buck through licensing deals. That's not to say winning business at gunpoint is a tactic I admire, but that's very different than assuming that Redmond sees Android as a deadly threat and wants to fit it with a pair of cement shoes.
However, Android is in deep legal trouble. This week's suit against the Nook crowd is just one of 37 -- count 'em -- Android-related lawsuits filed during the operating system's short life, according to open source activist and patent watcher Florian Mueller.
[ The mobile patent wars extend way beyond Microsoft and Google, as Paul Krill reports. | Keep up to date on the key tech industry insights with InfoWorld's Industry Standard newsletter. ]
Why so many? "It's a combination of Google's arrogant and reckless approach to other companies' intellectual property rights, Google's gambling at the expense of its partners who bear the brunt of this, and the weakness of Google's own patent portfolio, which is small and not sufficiently diversified to solve Android's [intellectual property] problems with cross-licenses," Mueller says.
Watching patent suits generally matches paint-drying festivals for excitement, but this bunch is different. It touches on the biggest names in techdom, including Apple, Oracle, Microsoft, Google, and Motorola; it exposes yet another flaw in the Google/Android business model; and it shows once again how badly the U.S. patent system is broken.
Why Microsoft went to war
To be clear, the intellectual property mess surrounding Android involves both copyrights and patents. Microsoft, of course, claims that the Nook crowd has flat-out violated several patents. The earlier suit against Google by Oracle involves both patents and copyrights, while the dispute over Linux and its relationship to Android is purely a copyright issue.
Android is an enormously complex project; its SDK alone contains some 100,000 files. Even using an automated software application to audit something that large could take the better part of a workday, says Mahshad Koohgoli, CEO of Protecode, whose products do just that. "Good developers don't write code from scratch," he notes. There's plenty of opportunity to make an honest mistake. It's probably not coincidental that as litigation around Android and other open source project flourishes, Protecode has grown rapidly, with business up some 200 percent in the last year alone.
Koohgoli is smart enough not to comment on anybody else's litigation, but other developers tell me that Google, at the very least, is guilty of carelessness. I can't read anyone's mind, but I find it hard to believe that a company as rich as Google is deliberately ripping off intellectual property. Mistakes, though, do happen, and even if you don't like Microsoft, it appears that the Redmonders may well have a case.