Why is Google playing the Cold War patent game in the age of patent terrorism?
August 5th, 2011
Daniel Eran Dilger
Seems hard to believe it was only one year ago that Google was rattling swords at its Google IO conference, comparing Apple and its iOS to North Korea while advancing Android 2.2 Froyo. What a difference a year makes. Now, rather than arrogantly bragging about how Android would crush and humiliate Apple’s axis of evil, Google has shifted into weeping about how other players in the mobile industry are threatening it with intellectual property claims
Further, rather than working with the industry to meet the modern dangers of patent terrorism from rogue patent troll cells, Google is trying to mount a Cold War style arms race to protect itself and its licensees from the results of willful infringement of other companies’ patents, from Oracle to Microsoft to Apple.
Back in the day, big companies with intellectual property issues, such as Microsoft and Apple, settled their differences by cross licensing, just as the Cold War superpowers kept things in check by maintaining huge arsenals of nuclear warheads that neither dared to actually ever use.
But today, the security threat isn’t coming from the other superpower. It’s coming from generals in the patent game who realize how valuable patents can be, and have defected from their cause to create independent groups intent on causing widespread damage.
Meet the new patent arms dealers (don’t say terrorists, they don’t like that word)
One is John Desmarais, who formerly represented big companies in their patent antics as a partner of Kirkland & Ellis. In 2007, he helped Alcatel-Lucent win a $1.52 billion patent verdict against Microsoft, although that verdict was subsequently overturned and the two companies negotiated a private settlement.
Just before stepping into to represent Apple in its ITC argument with Nokia, Desmarais realized he could make far more money owning patents than in defending companies from attack. Desmarais had acquired 4,500 patents from Micron Technology in late 2009, and has gone into business as Desmarais LLP, an eight attorney law firm aimed at monetizing the patents held by his patent troll company, Round Rock Research.
Google should be aware of the threat of such operatives, as while Desmarais hasn’t yet sued Google itself, it has already filed claims against prominent Android licensee HTC. That’s the kind of issue that Apple and Microsoft are now united in battling.
Fighting the industry rather than the instigator
Google, as it articulated in its blog post accusing Apple and Microsoft of conspiring against it, is very much a developing country that has never had much clout in the patent wars, like an emerging India or China or, say, North Korea, with aspirations to become an important power just by accumulating the firepower to retaliate to imagined threats from the West.
Today’s existing superpowers are both mystified and somewhat entertained by the notion that these pissant countries really see themselves as puissant nations, even as their real attention remains focused on the modern threats of extremist religious conservatives who want to blow up buildings or shoot children to get attention.
How did Google end up with both majority market share and an persecution complex? And why does it think the tech world is still operating under the antiquated rules of the Cold War rather than recognizing the real threat of patent terrorism? Understanding this insanity requires a historical overview of how Google put itself in the position of, I can’t help it, North Korea as a diminutive braggadocio running a bankrupt little copycat nation that it is clearly not equipped to run.
This all happened before
One year ago, while Google was calling Apple North Korea, it was also launching its latest version of Android 2.2 Froyo, a new line in the sand drawn with Apple even while the two were still locked in their curious partnership.
Google’s Froyo was a bit like Microsoft’s Windows 95: the marked end of any pretense of respect for Apple’s original user interface intellectual property, and the shameless beginning of a wholesale rip-off of any and all intellectual property that might be between it and market dominance.
Remember when Google used to gingerly step around such ideas as Apple’s multitouch patents in Android, encouraging its licensees and customers to deal with an inferior operating environment out of purely ideological support for something that wasn’t from Apple?
Blind hatred for Apple doesn’t exempt vendors from the results of churning out absolute crap, at least once they move from their core audience of haters to the broader, mainstream market that expects stuff to actually work. Microsoft learned that in the days of Windows 1.0 and 2.0 and 3.0, and Google began realizing that in its first three releases of Android as well.
And so Google dropped the charade of being respectful of Apple’s original iPhone patents and jumped wholesale into the role of Microsoft in the 1990s, with the result that its clumsy, heinously ugly Android began to take on far more of the usability and refined looks of Apple’s mobile platform. Licensees like Samsung further finessed Android to look as identical as possible to Apple’s products, exercising faith in the words of Abraham Lincoln that at least some of the people could be fooled all of the time.
Apple’s initial response to Google during 2010, the Year of Android, was to simply release iOS 4 and the new iPhone 4 hardware that stalled the momentum of Android as a platform, eventually convincing Verizon to pick up the new iPhone early the next year after its Droid-branded Android sales flatlined.
Google’s response was to target Apple TV and the iPad with two new Android initiatives, Google TV and Android 3.0 Honeycomb, both of which attempted to compete against Apple by leveraging the things Google was good at (such as search and web apps), rather than just simply copying Apple as it had in the smartphone arena.
That all happened before, too
This again bears striking resemblance to Microsoft and its efforts to shift from copying Apple to simply competing with Apple. Like Microsoft, Google failed miserably at trying to beat Apple at its own game without simply cheating. Google TV was an abysmal failure that nearly destroyed its licensees singlehandedly, while Honeycomb has only managed embarrass any company that might dare touch it, just like Microsoft’s PlaysForSure and Windows Phone 7.
Both Microsoft and Google are now left trying to generate excitement for a web platform running on ARM chips, as if the world needs another webOS from a company other than HP. The key difference however, is that today’s beleaguered Microsoft, like the Russian leadership of the former Soviet Union, isn’t still trying to maintain a superpower fight with the West based on mutually assured destruction. Instead, Microsoft sees the value in working with Apple and others to disarm as effectively as possible those who would try to leverage the latent power of the patent to threaten widespread damage if their demands are not met.
And so it is that Apple and Microsoft and various other competitors in the marketplace are forming consortiums to prevent these weapons of mass destruction from falling into the hands of patent terrorists. But not Google. It wants to build a patent arsenal that will give it bargaining power in talks that question why it has decided to shoot missiles at the coastlines of its former allies and trading partners in a banana republic style show of firepower and nationalist pride.
The most curious aspect of Google’s North Korean behavior is that it sees the need to beg for the approval of the public, writing blog missives that accuse the West of threatening its right to attack them without reprisal. Google is like the little gangbanger who walks around shoving his gun in the face of terrified old people to prove himself, then complains on his blog that he’s being oppressed by the man for having to pay rent for the property he occupies.
Get real Google. Stop biting the teat the feeds you. Your behavior is getting rather shameful.