Android defense? Google purchases 1,030 patents from IBM

Tue, Aug 2, 2011


When it comes to Intellectual Property, Google often tends to speak out of both sides of its mouth. It favors innovation and a few of its executives have even publicly lambasted the US patent system, but all the while, Google’s very existence and continued success is based on an ever-so-important patent for its search algorithm. Beyond that, the bulk of Google’s patent portfolio (up until recently) centered on search related patents.

With nearly 50 Android-related lawsuits currently in play, we can understand why Google is fed up with US patent law. And while Google may act nonchalant in public about the ongoing legal troubles surrounding Android, it damn well knows a slew of big-time competitors with voluminous patent portfolios (Oracle, Microsoft, and Apple) may very well threaten the popularity of Android among handset manufacturers. To wit, Apple recently won a favorable ITC judgment against HTC concerning Android related patent infringement.

Recently, Apple was a major part of a consortium that purchased over 6,000 patents from Nortel for $4.5 billion. Google was in the running up until the very end when the price got too high for its liking. Of course, after the fact, Google almost started acting childish, with chairman Eric Schmidt, for example, claiming that folks are purchasing patents because they don’t want to innovate. Nevermind the fact that Google was bidding upwards of $2.5 billion for those very same patents and that it recently acquired 1,000 patents from IBM.

Google’s rivals have said the Mountain View, California- based company is critical of the patent system because it has few patents of its own and entered a smartphone market where companies had been researching and selling products for years before Android phones went on sale in 2008.

The Android system is a free, open-source program that relies on some nonproprietary features Google didn’t create and allows outside developers to modify the code. That has left the company vulnerable to claims that it built Android on the backs of research done by other technology companies.

The patents Google acquired related to a swath of computing areas, from chip technology to relational databases and object oriented programming. While we’re not privy to the entire treasure chest attained by Google, one has to assume that Mountain View feels that it will help them stave off future legal attacks and, perhaps, defend its Android OS in on-going litigation as well.

Again, remember that Google has a relatively thin patent portfolio, especially compared to companies like Microsoft, Apple, Samsung, and Oracle with patent portfolios that range in the tens of thousands. That said, Google’s recent patent acquisition may not necessarily be directly related to Android, but rather a strategic purchase to beef up its patent portfolio in an attempt to play catchup to the big boys.

Of course, the incessant number of lawsuits directed Apple suggests that if a company has deep pockets, patent trolls and those with legitimate claims will come a’knocking regardless of any deep library of patents.

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