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7/5/2011
04:59 PM
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Google Goes Missing In Lodsys Litigation

Android developers continue to ask when Google will come to their defense as Apple has done for its developers. They may have a long wait.

When Apple's iOS developer community faced patent infringement claims from Lodsys, an intellectual property licensing company, developers complained. Apple responded, first with a letter to discourage Lodys from suing its developers, and then, when that failed, with a request to intervene in Lodsys' lawsuit.

Google's Android developer community has also seen a few of its members accused of patent infringement by Lodsys. Developers working on the Android platform would like to see Google defend them as Apple has done for its own. But Google has not done so.

Google has repeatedly declined to comment on its apparent disinterest in legal attacks on its developer ecosystem, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by Lodsys.

"Google has not explicitly addressed patent rights for Android," Lodsys CEO Mark Small said in a blog post at the end of May. "There are 30+ patent litigations active related to the Android platform at this time, so IP clearance is a visible and known issue with Android."

Small declined to comment for this article; Lodsys on Tuesday filed patent infringement lawsuits against six companies, including the New York Times, that previously filed for a declaratory judgement that they are not infringing.

Google allowed a significant opportunity to clarify its commitment to its Android ecosystem to slip away last week when it failed to outbid a consortium of Android competitors, including Apple, Microsoft, and RIM, for Nortel's patent portfolio.

Had Google won that auction--it would have taken more than $4.5 billion to do so--the company might have countered criticism that it is indifferent to the legal jeopardy faced by its partners and developers. Instead, Google and/or its hardware partners are likely face further demands for licensing fees--the companies that bought Nortel's patents can be expected to try to recoup their investment--and developers who wish to create Android apps will have no choice but to continue working on a platform under siege.

Google's lack of decisive action means that the Lodsys patent litigation--now affecting 33 companies--will continue to be seen as a threat to mobile developers, particularly those utilizing the Android platform.

Patrick T. Igoe, a patent attorney, founder of Igoe Intellectual Property, LLC, software engineer, and blogger, says he finds Google's silence on the Lodsys claims against Android developers interesting, but suggests that Apple actions rather than Google's are the most notable.

"I see this more as Apple going above-and-beyond than Google being deficient in any way," he said in a phone interview. "Apple has decided it's worth it to act in support of its development community."

Is it worth it to Google? Perhaps not. In fact, Android may be worth more to Microsoft than to Google at this point, in potential if not actual revenue. Mobile advertising, mainly from Android, was estimated last year to be worth about $1 billion per year to Google. Microsoft is said to be getting $5 per handset from HTC in patent royalties and the company continues to secure patent licensing agreements from other Android hardware makers like General Dynamics, Onkyo, Velocity Micro, and Wistron.

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