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10/1/2010
03:25 PM
Charles Babcock
Charles Babcock
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Microsoft Sues Motorola Over Android Phone Patents

Apple, Oracle and now Microsoft have filed patent suits against Android handset makers or Android's originator, Google.




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Microsoft said Friday it has filed a lawsuit against Motorola with the International Trade Commission and the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington state. The suit alleges Motorola infringed on nine patents to produce its Android smart phones.

This is not the first patent suit filed against Android. The first suit was in March when Apple sued HTC, maker of the Nexus One, Touch Pro and Droid Eris handsets, among others. Apple claims the use of Android and DSP chips violates its iPhone patents.

A second suit against Android was launched Aug. 12 when Oracle sued Google, claiming the Android virtual machine, Dalvik, infringed patents that came to Oracle when it acquired Sun Microsystems.

Sun's Java engineers were concerned about the development of Dalvik as a virtual machine that didn't conform to the Java standard. But in its previous, weakened condition, Sun was in no position to take on the search engine giant, especially since it was controlled by CEO and Chairman Eric Schmidt, former CTO at Sun. Once inside Oracle, the weakened condition changed.

It's easy to recall Sun's stout defense of Java in the 1990s, when it sued Microsoft for creating a Windows-specific version of the language. Sun said tailoring Java to Windows -- which Microsoft pointed out made it run faster -- diluted Java's value. Sun was claiming at the time it was a language in which any application could be built and then run anywhere. If Java never fully lived up to that promise, it was still the first modern language to often live up to it -- thanks to its ubiquitous Java Virtual Machine.

Now the shoe is on the other foot as Microsoft's Windows Mobile operating system struggles to gain headway against an expanding Android ecosystem. Microsoft is suing Motorola for infringement of nine Microsoft patents in Motorola's Android phones.

Even if these suits don't succeed in their own right, they are throwing a pall over all the development efforts currently underway by independent, third party developers, who were rapidly making Android the best equipped mobile device environment for consumer applications. These suits are as much aimed at these developers' loyalty, as they are the protection of any specific mobile phone features or internal workings.

Microsoft, Oracle and Apple all have extensive patent portfolios pertaining to programming languages, operating systems and device interfaces. Google probably has one of the world's best patent portfolios related to hierarchical search results. When it comes to mobile device operation, the patent edge has to lie with the big establishment three, a new Tripartite Alliance to restrain the enfant terrible. But it must feel strange to those Sun engineers inside Oracle America -- the new name for the Sun business unit -- to look out the window in a competitive and conflict strewn world and see Microsoft standing there as a friend and ally.

For those of us who wish the Patent Office could be restrained -- it doesn't have the expertise to issue software patents, and until it does, it should be restricted from doing so -- there is no winner in this fight. But there will be potentially lots of losers, particularly the independent software engineers who develop for Android. Looks like Google is going to have to stop solving global warming for us and start paying attention to business.

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