Will Apple Attack Google Directly in Anti-Android Campaign?
In the wake of Apple Inc.s recent $1 billion patent-trial victory over Samsung Electronics, Google Inc. distanced itself from the verdict with a statement stressing that most of the patent claims in that case dont relate to the core Android operating system it created to power mobile devices.
But does that mean Google wont be Apples next target?
The verdict is definitely a thorn in Googles side, but this is not an Android killer, said Robert Barr, executive director of the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology. It will continue to be a war by proxy.
Its by now a well-documented fact that Apples former CEO Steve Jobs wanted to destroy Googles Android operating system, which he believed to be a copy of the iPhones underlying software. But Apple has so far devoted its resources to suing mobile phone and tablet makers that use the Android operating system in their productscompanies like Samsung and HTCrather than targeting Google directly.
This strategy has made sense because Google provides its Android operating system to phone and tablet manufacturers for free, allowing the companies to make changes that differentiate their products. Google makes its money on Android through online advertising generated by its use, rather than from selling the operating system itself. It would therefore be difficult to calculate potential damages in a suit against Google. Its more difficult to show direct infringement by Google if its not selling phones, Barr said.
The jury in the August Samsung trial did find that features built into the Android operating systemnot just Samsung phone featuresinfringed Apple patents. But these are not difficult to design around going forward, said Bill Merritt, chief executive officer of InterDigital Inc., a company that produces, sells, and licenses wireless digital systems that are used in smartphones and other devices.
Google is now producing its own phones, having purchased Motorola Mobilitya maker of Android phonesfor $12.5 billion earlier this year. But the Motorola deal was viewed more as a means for Google to acquire an extensive and much-needed patent portfolio that can be used to protect the company from Apple and others. Motorola has a portfolio of more than 17,000 patents.
In fact, in August Motorola filed another lawsuit against Apple with the U.S. International Trade Commission, claiming Apple is infringing its patents and asking the ITC to block imports of certain Apple products. This was viewed as an extension of the ongoing Apple-Google war.
The big Samsung verdict could spur mobile device makers to reduce their reliance on Android and partner with makers of other operating systems. Earlier this week, for example, the Korea Times reported that Samsung was looking into partnering with Microsoft Corp. Its just as likely, however, that phone makers that use Android will work closely with Google to update the operating system in ways that work around the infringing patents, Barr said.
This is how the patent system works, Barr said. Its supposed to protect and encourage innovation instead of imitation.
Indeed, Google noted this in its post-verdict statement: We work with our partners to give consumers innovative and affordable products, and we dont want anything to limit that.
The full impact of the Samsung trial and its effect on Google and Android remain to be seen, and the case, Barr points out, is far from over. Hearings are yet to be held and appeals may follow.
This case has shown that Apple can throw speed bumps in the road, said Merritt. But so far it hasnt been able to throw up a wall.
See also: "Looking at the Months and Years After Apple's Big Patent Win," CorpCounsel, August 2012.