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Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times technology reporter Matt Day.

August 3, 2011 at 5:46 PM

Ganging up against Android? Google attorney has sharp words

In a sharply worded blog post Wednesday, David Drummond, Google senior vice president and chief legal officer, accused Microsoft, Apple, Oracle and other companies in a coalition that recently bought old Nortel and Novell patents of “a hostile, organized campaign against Android.”

Google, which makes the free mobile-phone software Android, and Microsoft, along with other companies, recently bid against each other for a set of Nortel mobile-technology patents. Microsoft’s consortium won.

Drummond said in his Wednesday blog post:

“They’re doing this by banding together to acquire Novell’s old patents (the “CPTN” group including Microsoft and Apple) and Nortel’s old patents (the “Rockstar” group including Microsoft and Apple), to make sure Google didn’t get them; seeking $15 licensing fees for every Android device; attempting to make it more expensive for phone manufacturers to license Android (which we provide free of charge) than Windows Mobile; and even suing Barnes & Noble, HTC, Motorola, and Samsung. Patents were meant to encourage innovation, but lately they are being used as a weapon to stop it.”

Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith responded Wednesday by tweeting: “Google says we bought Novell patents to keep them from Google. Really? We asked them to bid jointly with us. They said no.”

In recent months, Microsoft has gone after a handful of companies that make Android phones and tablets.

It has either sued or persuaded the companies to pay Microsoft license fees for some technologies found in certain Android features. Microsoft contends it has patents on those technologies.

Four companies in the past two weeks said they will pay licensing fees to Microsoft for selling tablets and phones that run on Android.

Smith, in a wide-ranging discussion with reporters in June, replied to a question about whether Android is a new business for Microsoft by saying: “We’ve been open that we’re happy to enter into a licensing agreement” with companies that make Android devices.

Asked about a Citi analyst report that HTC was paying Microsoft $5 per Android phone, Smith said, “That seems like a fair price.” He said $5 is less than how much Microsoft charges for each Windows Phone license.

[Update 10:30 p.m. 8/3: Oh, snap! Microsoft spokesman Frank Shaw tweeted Wednesday evening: “Free advice for David Drummond – next time check with Kent Walker before you blog. :)” Walker is senior vice president and general counsel for Google.

In his tweet, Shaw included a photo of an email from Walker to Microsoft attorney Smith turning down what appears to be an opportunity for a joint bid. The email (pictured below) does not specify what the bid would be for.]

email.jpg

[Update 1 p.m. 8/4: In what’s become a public back-and-forth pissing match, Google has now fired back at Microsoft’s response to Google’s initial claim that Microsoft and other companies were engaging in anti-competitive practices against Google’s Android.

David Drummond, Google’s senior vice president and chief legal officer, posted this to the Google blog this afternoon:

It’s not surprising that Microsoft would want to divert attention by pushing a false “gotcha!” while failing to address the substance of the issues we raised. If you think about it, it’s obvious why we turned down Microsoft’s offer. Microsoft’s objective has been to keep from Google and Android device-makers any patents that might be used to defend against their attacks. A joint acquisition of the Novell patents that gave all parties a license would have eliminated any protection these patents could offer to Android against attacks from Microsoft and its bidding partners. Making sure that we would be unable to assert these patents to defend Android — and having us pay for the privilege — must have seemed like an ingenious strategy to them. We didn’t fall for it.

Ultimately, the U.S. Department of Justice intervened, forcing Microsoft to sell the patents it bought and demanding that the winning group (Microsoft, Oracle, Apple, EMC) give a license to the open-source community, changes the DoJ said were “necessary to protect competition and innovation in the open source software community.” This only reaffirms our point: Our competitors are waging a patent war on Android and working together to keep us from getting patents that would help balance the scales.]

[Update 3:10 p.m. 8/4: Annnnnd, Microsoft fires back. In a series of tweets responding to Google chief legal officer David Drummond’s latest blog missive (see below), Microsoft spokesman Frank Shaw tweeted this afternoon:

  • Hello again David Drummond. This is going to take a few tweets, so here we go. Let’s look at what Google does not dispute in their reply.
  • We offered Google the opportunity to bid with us to buy the Novell patents; they said no.
  • Why? BECAUSE they wanted to buy something that they could use to assert against someone else.
  • SO partnering with others & reducing patent liability across industry is not something they wanted to help do.]

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