Google Tears Into Apple, Microsoft Over ‘Hostile’ Patent Fight

Back-and-forth charges come via blogs, tweets

Google’s top legal officer came out all guns blazing in a blog post Wednesday about the escalating patent battle between the Mountain View, Calif., tech giant and a few of its top rivals.

In a blistering post titled “When patents attack Android,” the company’s senior vice president and chief legal officer David Drummond said the success of the company’s mobile platform has yielded “a hostile, organized campaign against Android by Microsoft, Oracle, Apple and other companies, waged through bogus patents.”

In his two decades working in tech, Drummond said Microsoft and Apple have “always been at each others throats.” The companies’ unlikely decision to crawl into bed together begs some questioning, he continued.

Dropping the fact that 550,000 Android devices are activated every day, Drummond said, "Android is on fire." But that growth has spurred its competitors to band together to acquire old patents from Novell and Nortell and seek licensing fees for every Android device to drive up the licensing cost for phone manufacturers, he said.

Microsoft, Apple, and Oracle did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Adweek. A Microsoft spokesman declined to comment but, via Twitter, a couple of Microsoft executives took issue with Google’s claims.

“Google says we bought Novell patents to keep them from Google. Really? We asked them to bid jointly with us. They said no,” tweeted Brad Smith, a Microsoft svp and general counsel.

Frank Shaw, the company’s vice president of corporate communications, also took to Twitter to say, “Free advice for David Drummond – next time check with Kent Walker before you blog. :)” Along with the tweet, he posted a link to a photo of email from Kent Walker, a Google svp and general counsel, to Smith.

In the email, Walker appeared to decline an offer to partner with Microsoft to bid for the patents referenced in Drummond’s blog post.

“After talking with people here, it sounds as though for various reasons a joint bid wouldn’t be advisable for us on this one,” Walker apparently wrote.

On Thursday afternoon, the brouhaha continued with an updated blog post from Drummond responding to Microsoft’s tweets.

“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,” he said. “If you think about it, it's obvious why we turned down Microsoft’s offer.”

Implying that Microsoft’s offer to join the bidding group was less than sincere, Drummond said its real goal was to keep Google and Android manufacturers from getting their hands on any patents that could defend them from patent attacks, Drummond said. By agreeing to jointly bid on the Novell patents with Microsoft and other companies, Google would have lost any protections the patents could provide against attacks from Microsoft and the companies it bid with.

“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,” he wrote. “We didn't fall for it.”

Eventually, Drummond said, the Department of Justice stepped in to force Microsoft to sell the patents and order the group (including Oracle, Apple and EMC) to give a license to the open-source community to protect competition and innovation in the field.

Explaining the company’s decision to bring its case to the public, Drummond said the company wanted to speak up to keep Android as a competitive choice for consumers, “by stopping those who are trying to strangle it.”

In the past year or so, Oracle has sued Google over alleged patent and copyright infringement related to its Android software. Apple and Microsoft have taken legal action against the manufacturers (HTC and Barnes & Noble, respectively) that make the Android devices.

When asked about the legal squabbles at an event in Asia last month, Google’s chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt said the “legal fun” was an outcome of Android’s success.

"We have seen an explosion of Android devices entering the market and, because of our successes, competitors are responding with lawsuits as they cannot respond through innovations," he said, according to ZDNet Asia. "I'm not too worried about this."

This story has been updated.