“Free Isn’t Free”: Microsoft Trying To Make Android More Costly With Patent Suit

News broke yesterday that Microsoft was suing Motorola for Android-related patent infringements. Microsoft said in a blog post that its patents cover a range of software functions used by Android devices (presumably this would apply to the iPhone as well):

The Microsoft innovations at issue in this case help make smartphones “smart.”  Indeed, our patents relate to key features that users have come to expect from every smartphone.  The ability to send and receive email on-the-go has driven smartphone adoption . . .

Of course, for certain apps to run efficiently on handheld devices, they must be notified of changes in signal strength and battery power and the device must manage memory for storing data.  Given the wide range of functionality smartphones offer, they also need to be able to display relevant choices for users efficiently.  Microsoft’s patented technologies tackle all of these challenges.

The Microsoft-Motorola litigation is a virtual mirror of a similar suit by Apple against HTC. Interestingly, HTC has licensed Microsoft patents and so presumably its Android handsets would not be the subject of potential future Microsoft litigation.

Microsoft has previously argued for a number of reasons that when it comes to Android “free isn’t really free.” Now it appears the company aims to make that argument real by imposing licensing fees on Android OEMs through patent litigation.

Image credit: Motorola

This move is apparently modeled on a somewhat successful strategy that Redmond used against open-source Linux. As a secondary motivation there may be some “payback” going on for Motorola’s abandonment of Windows as a smartphone platform. At one time Motorola was a significant Windows Mobile OEM.

The phone pictured at left is the Motorola Q, a Windows Mobile 6 handset. Windows (7) Phones are due to come out next month from Samsung, HTC and LG.

Apple sued Android-Google by proxy through HTC to prevent Android from duplicating iPhone features and eliminating competitive differences between the operating systems and user experiences. Microsoft is suing Android-Google by proxy through Motorola to make Android more expensive for OEMs — though some argue that Google already extracts fees from OEMs for early access to Android builds — and put it on a more equal footing with Windows Phones, where software licenses cost OEMs $15 a handset.

I’m curious why Apple and Microsoft didn’t sue Google directly, when they’re both ultimately aiming at Android. For Apple that would be much more awkward than for Microsoft, which doesn’t partner with Google in the way that Apple still does. By contrast Oracle sued Google over Android regarding alleged patent infringements pertaining to Java-related intellectual property, which Oracle acquired when it purchased Sun.

Of course Apple and Nokia have sued each other over smartphone software patents as well. It’s all a mess and adjudicating all the competing and overlapping patent claims among smartphone OEMs and OS makers could take years.

Related Topics: Channel: Mobile | Google: Critics | Google: Legal | Google: Mobile | Legal: Patents | Microsoft: Business Issues | Top News

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • modelportfolio2003

    @Greg
    Seems to me this is a very brazen and desperate act by Microsoft. As you say, they are upset that Motorola ditched Windows Mobile for Android and this is their way to get even. I expect that negotiations between Motorola and Microsoft went on for a while so this will come as no surprise to Motorola. If I were them however, I would be determined to fight Microsoft. Motorola has been building hardware and software for cell/mobile phones for far longer than Microsoft has so I would at least expect Motorola to counter-sue. It is a sad commentary on technology that Microsoft needs to sue a former partner rather than create an innovative platform that Motorola would view as must have. The fact that Motorola has dismissed using Microsoft Mobile 7 speaks volumes about what they think of Microsoft’s new software platform! Answer: not much. Reviews by the press is one thing—a review by an OEM is quite a dagger in Microsoft’s trial balloon.
    Comments?

  • http://blog.lbi-netrank.co.uk/author/ian-macfarlane/ Ian Macfarlane

    I see that the old adage “if you can’t innovate, litigate” is as true as ever.

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