Fri, Aug 05, 2011 - Page 10 News List

Google lashes out at Microsoft, Apple over smartphones

Reuters, LOS ANGELES

Google Inc, fresh from losing a bid to buy thousands of patents from bankrupt Nortel, lashed out at its biggest rivals on Wednesday and accused them of banding together to block the Internet giant in the red-hot smartphone arena.

In a rare public outburst, Google chief legal officer David Drummond blasted Microsoft Corp, Apple Inc, Oracle Corp and “other companies” for colluding to hamper the increasingly popular Android mobile operating system by buying up patents, effectively imposing a “tax” on Android mobile phones.

Apart from increasing costs for consumers, snapping up the patents would stifle technological innovation, he said.

“Microsoft and Apple have always been at each other’s throats, so when they get into bed together you have to start wondering what’s going on,” Drummond wrote in a blog post.

He referred to “a hostile, organized campaign against Android by Microsoft, Oracle, Apple and other companies, waged through bogus patents.”

Apple, Microsoft and Oracle declined to comment.

Google — which is facing a federal antitrust probe in the Internet search market it dominates — is forging ahead in the smartphone market, but it has been hampered by a lack of intellectual property in wireless telephony, which has exposed it to patent-infringement lawsuits from rivals such as Oracle.

It lost out on the Nortel patents to a consortium grouping Apple, Microsoft, Research in Motion and others, which together paid US$4.5 billion.

Google individually had bid up to US$3.4 billion for those patents, before teaming up with Intel Corp, which on its own had bid up to US$3.1 billion, according to a source familiar with the matter.

They bid through US$4 billion and then tapped out, another source said.

The Android software, now used by phone makers including HTC Corp (宏達電), Motorola Inc and Samsung Electronics Co, has rapidly overtaken Nokia Oyj to become the world’s most popular smartphone platform, with about a third of the market.

Drummond said the company was looking to strengthen its patent portfolio. Google, whose crown jewel is its search algorithm, has never placed the same priority on patents as it has on copyright, but it is now hoping to stock up. It recently bought more than 1,000 patents from IBM Corp.

The Internet search leader is now in talks to buy InterDigital, a key holder of wireless patents valued at more than US$3 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal.

That shift in mentality comes as a wave of patent suits crisscross the wireless industry. In past years, incumbents have tried to protect their position against newcomers such as Google, which entered the market three years ago with Android.

HTC received a setback last month when a US trade panel said it had infringed on two of Apple’s patents.

Also, Samsung has delayed the Australian launch of its latest Galaxy tablet because of a patent dispute with Apple, which says the South Korean electronics giant “slavishly” copied the iPhone and iPad.

Oracle is suing Google, claiming Android infringed on Java patents that it inherited through an acquisition of Sun Microsystems last year.

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