Microsoft makes Google look silly in the Android patent wars

Google's chief legal officer accuses Microsoft of patent trolling -- and Microsoft replies with a damning email

Recently, I've taken Microsoft to task for using its Android patents to steamroll small manufacturers into submission as a noisy precursor to taking on the big boys in the Android arena. Although my opinions about Microsoft's tactics are not universally shared, even here at InfoWorld, there's no question that Microsoft has been playing to the camera, publicly making the most of its Android conquests.

Now, in a stunning Epic Fail, Google has managed to make Microsoft look like the reasonable party in this whole dispute.

It all started yesterday afternoon when Google's senior vice president and chief legal officer David Drummond blogged that "Android's success has yielded something else: a hostile, organized campaign against Android by Microsoft, Oracle, Apple, and other companies, waged through bogus patents." Drummond goes on to say that the companies have banded together to buy old patents "to make sure Google didn't get them; seeking $15 licensing fees for every Android device."

He further says that "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 ..."

I'll spare you the crocodile tears, but when I read that post it was hard for me to work up much sympathy for Google. Bidding for the old patents took place in a very open way; Google wasn't sandbagged or cheated, it was merely outbid.

But that's just part of the story.

Shortly after Drummond's blog appeared, Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel, tweeted, "Google says we bought Novell patents to keep them from Google. Really? We asked them to bid jointly with us. They said no."

Hammering home the point two hours later, Microsoft's vice president of corporate communications Frank Shaw tweeted, "Free advice for David Drummond -- next time check with Kent Walker before you blog. :)" and linked to a copy of an email message apparently sent by Google senior vice president and general counsel Kent Walker to Microsoft's Brad Smith. The email message, sent last October, says, "After talking with people here, it sounds as though for various reasons a joint bid wouldn't be advisable for us on this one. But I appreciate your flagging it, and we're open to discussing other similar opportunities in the future."

Oops.

The patents being bought may or may not have a direct bearing on Android -- it will take legions of lawyers a decade to sort all that out, no doubt. And the exact context of the message from Walker to Smith isn't at all apparent: Was Microsoft demanding that Google shoulder too much of the purchase price? Did Google have reason to, uh, doubt Microsoft's sincerity? Did Google analyze the patents on the block and determine (perhaps erroneously) that they had no bearing on Android?

One thing is for sure: Microsoft outmanuevered Google -- and Android is going to take some body blows over this one.

Stay tuned.

This story, "Microsoft makes Google look silly in the Android patent wars," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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