(Todd Bishop over at GeekWire has more patience than I do, and here's his rundown of what patents are in play in the Microsoft v. Barnes & Noble case. He notes, by the way, that the patents cited are not the same as those named in Microsoft's suit against Motorola.)
Why then doesn't Microsoft simply sue Google? That would be the way to proceed if it wanted to kill Android. But the device makers are the ones actually implementing the disputed patents. "In the technology industry, device manufacturers are the point in the chain of commerce at which steps are taken to clear third-party patent rights. The Android platform infringes a number of Microsoft's patents, and companies shipping Android devices must respect our intellectual property rights," a Microsoft spokesman told our colleagues at PC World. In other words, the economic harm that patents are designed to prevent occurs when a product is sold, so the ultimate sellers become the patent lawsuits' targets.
By suing the Nook crowd, Microsoft has a chance to make them sign profitable licensing agreements. "Their announcement of this lawsuit is a clear indication that they only felt forced to sue because Barnes & Noble, Foxconn, and Inventec refused to accept Microsoft's terms even though Barnes & Noble's closest competitor, Amazon.com, is already paying," Mueller said.
Is Apple playing a blocking game in the mobile patent wars?
Not everyone sees Microsoft's motivations that way -- or Apple's, for that matter. (Apple is suing device maker HTC over alleged violation of iPhone patents.)
Open source strategist and Alfresco vice president Matt Asay put it this way: "Android renders Microsoft's entire business plan obsolete. For Apple, which gives away the OS as part of its hardware, Android is an affront to its superior taste: How dare that cheap mongrel OS displace Apple at the top of the heap? Don't those silly consumers know elegance when they see it? Apple hopes to slow Android's progress, while Microsoft hopes to salvage its outdated business model. Neither is going to win," he tells me.
Although I tend to agree more with Mueller's view, I'd certainly concede that Asay may be right. This is complicated stuff.
The larger issue is the damage wrought by a patent system that encourages endless, expensive litigation over intellectual property rights. The system is particularly dangerous for smaller companies that lack the resources to fight lawsuits brought by much larger competitors. Of course, there's the long-standing practice of suits by "trolls," companies that buy up patents unrelated to their business for the sole purpose of suing companies they accuse of violations. Patents were included in our Constitution to foster and protect innovation. The current system does the opposite. Congress is again looking at the issue, but that's no guarantee a better result is coming.
I don't have the room to explore this larger patent issue fully in this post, but I expect to follow up in future stories. I'd welcome your thoughts on intellectual property issues in software, particularly if you've been on either end of a patent lawsuit.
This article, "Why Microsoft declared war on Google over Android," was originally published by InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bill Snyder's Tech's Bottom Line blog and follow the latest technology business developments at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.