Microsoft sues Motorola. Forgive me if I'm unimpressed.
The inevitable sequel to Microsoft licensing a variety of smartphone-related patents to HTC arrived today when Microsoft sued another vendor of Android phones, Motorola, over two handfuls of smartphone-related patents.
Sorry, I just can't work up much energy writing about patent ping-pong these days.
To judge from them, these patents, like many, appear to plug existing insights and innovations together. And if that combination could be considered obvious to somebody experienced in mobile-device design, these patents should not have been issued in the first place, as per an overdue Supreme Court ruling that in 2007 reaffirmed the patent system's doctrine of "non-obviousness."
The other weird thing about the lawsuit is not its claims made but its target, as that Microsoft blog post makes clear at the end. Motorola isn't the primary author of software on Android phones--Google is.
At some point, judges and juries will decide these matters. But the dubious history of tech-patent litigation suggests that we're a long way from then. Between possible countersuits from Motorola (everybody else does that in these circumstances, why not this company, too?), the inevitable requests for reexamination of some patents, and appeals of any verdicts, I would not be surprised to see Microsoft's suit still simmering away by the time I'm ready to upgrade from the Android phone I ordered nine months ago. So my advice to anybody worried about buying an Android device--or any new gadget, since just about anything can fall into a patent thicket these days--is not to panic.
Besides, companies routinely settle this kind of dispute by signing "cross-licensing agreements" that let them stick to their original plans. If that happens in this case, you, the customer, may see the resulting improvements in future smartphones:
Well, you might pay a little more to cover the legal fees run up by everybody's intellectual-property lawyers. But that doesn't count as an "improvement" unless you're a patent attorney or you happen to sell goods or services to members of the patent bar.
Would somebody now like to explain how these legal games "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts," the Constitution's justification for giving Congress the power to grant temporary patent monopolies?
Oh, wait... I should write something original in this post. Attentive readers will note that every paragraph above came, with slight modifications, from an earlier post about tech-patent lawsuits over just the past seven months.
There was no need to rewrite those paragraphs, because the central truths of tech-patent lawsuits never change.
Once again, we have a company responding to a competitor's success (they never seem to bother suing rivals that are already circling the drain) with litigation. Once again, it can't bother to cite the patents in question in its initial statements. Once again, it's suing a smaller company to try to send a message to a larger company.
(6:17 p.m. See Cecilia Kang's post for more context about the recent history of smartphone patent suites and a PDF copy of Microsoft's filing. It specifies patents 5,579,517; 5,758,352; 6,621,746; 6,826,762; 6,909,910; 7,644,376; 5,664,133; 6,578,054; and 6,370,566.)
The only thing that seems new about this suit is its timing. If Microsoft wanted to intimidate competing smartphone vendors out of adopting Android, it should have done this two years ago. Now--well after its old Windows Mobile operating system has rendered obsolete and irrelevant by the iPhone and Android--Microsoft's claim that "the Microsoft innovations at issue in this case help make smartphones 'smart' " will only look delusional to many smartphone owners. The suit appears as belated as Microsoft's decision to reboot its smartphone-software efforts with its upcoming Windows Phone 7 release.
Okay, rant over. Now you can share your 2-cents worth in the comments.
| October 1, 2010; 6:00 PM ET
Categories: Gripes, Mobile, Policy and politics
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