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Android’s Biggest Fan Is Microsoft, of Course

It’s been obvious for some time now that Microsoft is a big Android fan, thanks to the tidy sums of cash the software giant has managed to extract from the companies that use it.

What wasn’t necessarily apparent until recently, however, is just how far Redmond’s devotion goes.

With last week’s addition of Compal Electronics to Microsoft’s Android licensing lineup, it’s becoming truly clear. It doesn’t seem premature, in fact, to declare Ballmer et al. Android’s biggest fans *ever*, so passionately dedicated have they become.

Compal was the 10th victim of Redmond’s lucrative new licensing line of business, of course, and its acquiescence means that Microsoft now gets a piece of more than half of all Android devices out there.

If that won’t inspire a little adoration, Linux Girl doesn’t know what will!

Redmond’s lawyers have surely been doing the Happy Dance all week. As for those in the Linux blogosphere? Not so much.

‘A License to Kill WinPhone 7 Dead’

“I think this is yet another data point (as if anyone needs any more proof) that Microsoft’s mobile strategy is on the ropes, if not down for the count, and can’t compete in the marketplace,” opined Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site.

“And just to rub salt into the wound, even if Microsoft were able to extract Danegeld for every Android device manufactured by anyone for sale anywhere instead of just the US market, every license sold is one less WinPhone sale, one more mobile device using Google instead of Bing, one more customer lost to Android apps, one less customer for Microsoft’s mobile gaming and other services,” Hudson added.

“Microsoft is basically selling a ‘license to kill’ — to kill WinPhone7 dead,” she asserted. “This is not the way to get the critical mass of users needed to start a ‘virtuous feedback cycle’ for your product.”

‘Like Squeezing a Chocolate Bar’

Eventually, Microsoft is “going to have to bite the bullet and start giving away WinPhone licenses, and even that is probably too little, too late,” Hudson told Linux Girl. “Apple and Android have a solid lock on the market.”

Making matters worse is that “licensing fees are real balancing act,” she pointed out. “The strategy of trying to collect royalties is like squeezing a chocolate bar — squeeze too hard and you’re going to have a sticky mess on your hands as manufacturers look for alternatives.”

Apple has shown that “it’s possible to switch the underlying OS — they’ve done it several times,” Hudson noted. “In a worst-case scenario, BSD can replace Android’s Linux underpinnings.”

Meanwhile, “to milk the current situation as long as possible, Microsoft will have to be very careful not to exceed the manufacturers’ collective pain threshold,” Hudson warned. “But even that’s a loser’s game over the long term.”

The Problem With Patents

Roberto Lim, a lawyer and blogger on Mobile Raptor, saw it differently.

“If the Android manufacturers feel it is to their benefit to pay the license fees, we should assume that they do have a good reason for doing so, and not assume that Microsoft is milking Android,” Lim opined.

After all, “HTC paying license fees to Microsoft did not prevent it from having a banner year,” he pointed out.

Still, software patents — which are the foundation for Microsoft’s current licensing strategy — “do seem too broad,” Lim added. “If we applied this to technology that has developed in the past 30 years, it would have restricted innovation.”

‘Something Is Wrong With the System’

Imagine, for example, “if someone had patented clicking an image displayed on a screen to launch an application, or manipulating a television set with a remote device, or adjusting volume by sliding an indicator displayed on a screen,” he mused.

“There is a need to really look at the entire system of software patents and see to what extent they are necessary to protect investments in research and development for new ideas and to what extent patents are sought to try to create a monopoly,” Lim told Linux Girl. “Apple, for one, appears to be trying to utilize broad patents to create a monopoly.”

Today’s patent wars, in fact, are similar to domain name squatting, he concluded: “There are companies that do not manufacture anything, have no product other than patents, and obtained patents for the sole purpose of seeking royalties. When you start to see things like this, you really know something is wrong with the system.”

‘A House of Cards’

Indeed, “M$’s taxation of Android/Linux is an anticompetitive act propped up by bogus software patents,” agreed blogger Robert Pogson. “It’s all a house of cards which will fall when SCOTUS finally rules them illegal.”

For proof that software patents don’t promote innovation, one need only look at the “gridlock” that results, Pogson explained.

“Look at Oracle v Google,” he said. “The judge is very busy and has to find a whole month to deal with it on top of the weeks already spent on the matter. The end result is that the legal fees will amount to more than the value of the so-called patents.

“In the high-tech world, patents are inhibitors of innovation,” he concluded. “These guys are not working out new ideas in their garages.”

‘They Spend Billions on R&D’

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet took a different view.

“Android DOES infringe!” hairyfeet told Linux Girl. “Have you SEEN how many patents MSFT has? They have tons, folks — they spend billions on R&D cranking out more every year.”

That, in turn, is why “FOSS needs badly to kill ‘free as in beer’ and make it, as RMS has said, ‘free as in freedom,’ because you simply have no way to build a sizable patent war chest,” hairyfeet asserted.

‘Have a Scary War Chest or Pay Up’

“Look at some of the companies that have died, like Novell — how much better would it have been for FOSS if ALL their patents were now property of the community?” he added. “This is why, even when they were suing each other, AMD and Intel had cross licensing agreements, and even though they are rivals, AMD and Nvidia have them as well.”

There are simply too many patents, in other words, to deal with them any other way, hairyfeet concluded: “You either have a scary enough war chest of your own that rivals want to do cross licensing, or you pay up — your choice.”

Google’s absence from Microsoft’s licensing campaign is “a strong sign that Microsoft is afraid of litigation in this area but trying to find some way of monetizing the competition,” suggested Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project.

‘Every Incentive to Fight to the End’

“In other words, only the devices are licensed, not the allegedly infringing operating system,” he added. “The goal of litigation against Motorola and others is solely to flesh out licensing deals and not with the intent to bring anything to trial.”

Travers wonders, in fact, “if Google acquired Motorola Mobility solely to take over the patent litigation,” he told Linux Girl. “This increases the stakes considerably, and decreases the chance of an 11th hour, out-of-court settlement based solely on device manufacturing.”

Google has “every incentive to fight to the end,” he pointed out, “and Microsoft has important incentives not to.”

In the long run, “I think the only lawsuit that matters is the Motorola one,” Travers concluded.

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter.

7 Comments

  • "as shown that "it’s possible to switch the underlying OS — they’ve done it several times," Hudson noted. "In a worst-case scenario, BSD can replace Android’s Linux underpinnings.""

    I doubt it would help with more than 10% of the patent issues, and could open manufacturers up to more patent issues, because the GPL includes implicit patent licenses wheras the BSD does not.

    • Because as you have pointed out the competition is patenting the moon and stars and if you think your pleas for patent reform will EVER compete with those millions in lobbyist dollars I have a bridge you might be interested in.

      Look at how many FOSS companies like Sun and Novell have died, now imagine how much better FOSS would be if all of their patents were now owned by the community, along with their copyrights? As I said I have no doubt Android infringes, probably Linux too, simply because MSFT is growing their patent and copyright warchest daily. And for those that say "If they would tell us what infringed we could work around it!" that is a complete and total fallacy. How will you work around it if they own a square like Apple does? How will you work around it if it takes you 40 steps to do a simple division because MSFT owns a patent so broad it pretty much covers division? What good will Linux be if after the workarounds it takes a quad core to make it as fast as a machine from a decade ago thanks to all the extra steps YOUR OS has to take the other guy does NOT have to deal with? Who will want it then?

      No as I said the key to the future is to kill free as in beer so those busting their behinds for FOSS can make enough money they can build a patent warchest to rival the big boys. as it is you are beholden to the "charity and goodwill" of companies like IBM who’ve already said GPL V3 is verboten which of course gives them the power to TiVo anything they like, how many more "deals with the devil" will you have to make in the future to survive?

      In the end free as in beer simply leaves those that work the hardest and make the best products with less than those that they need to compete with. Think about how many patents would be controlled by Red hat now if more than half the world’s webservers didn’t run CentOS? RMS may truly believe there can be a communist utopia but the market is showing the ugly truth and that is this: He who has the gold makes the rules and right now FOSS simply doesn’t have the gold, so they don’t get to make any of the rules.

      • "I doubt it would help with more than 10% of the patent issues, and could open manufacturers up to more patent issues, because the GPL includes implicit patent licenses wheras the BSD does not."

        You bring up two interesting points. Here’s how I see it.

        First, the GPL (any version) doesn’t help wrt 3rd-party patents, so if you contribute code that infringes Microsofts’ patents, the problem still exists.

        Second, the "linux infringes 283 Microsoft patents" meme has been around since well before Android (or even iOS), so the issue apparently isn’t really about paying for Android. Switching to BSD would get rid of most of those issues, since BSD was around before linux, and Windows uses chunks of BSD code, same as SCO Unix did.

        Of course, the REAL issue is why nobody has named these so-called infringing patents. To date, everyone who has signed any sort of agreement has been silent (probably part of the terms of the deal). Maybe we need Anonymous to get the list of patents into view?

        Or maybe someone needs to make an alternative OS that can run Android apps natively, sidestepping both the Microsoft and Oracle issues entirely? Seems to me there’d be a big market.

        Worse case scenario, they make a deal to cross-license the tech with Apple (who have a patent cross-licensing deal with Microsoft), iOS gets to run Android apps, the Telcos get to run Android apps, desktop and laptop users (windows, osx, linux, bsd) get to run Android apps …

        … but that would probably make too much sense.

        • "First, the GPL (any version) doesn’t help wrt 3rd-party patents, so if you contribute code that infringes Microsofts’ patents, the problem still exists. "

          Neither does BSD.

          "Second, the "linux infringes 283 Microsoft patents" meme has been around since well before Android (or even iOS), so the issue apparently isn’t really about paying for Android. Switching to BSD would get rid of most of those issues, since BSD was around before linux, and Windows uses chunks of BSD code, same as SCO Unix did. "

          The BSD code base today is not exactly the same code base as the code base of yesteryear. So only there is still a large chuck of functionality that is not protected by prior art claims. FreeBSD also has a linux compatibility layer that allows it’s kernel to implement almost all of the system call functionality that the Linux kernel provides.

          • "Because as you have pointed out the competition is patenting the moon and stars and if you think your pleas for patent reform will EVER compete with those millions in lobbyist dollars I have a bridge you might be interested in."

            However it tends to come from the more entrenched companies. There are large, newer companies like Facebook that don’t have many patents and thus have interest in making the patent process saner especially withing software.

          • The implementations in linux and bsd are not necessarily the same, which means that even if the code to implement a certain functionality were to infringe under linux (though we’d all like to see a real example, instead of the FUD from Microsoft), it doesn’t mean that bsd would also be infringing.

            The same would apply to the linux ABI in bsd.

            I think you’ll agree that what’s REALLY needed is for someone to clear the air by listing the supposedly infringing patents. That Microsoft hasn’t is a good indicator that they are easily worked around.

          • And this is why: the SECOND a company becomes as large as FB and thus has power to affect the changes you seek THEY ARE ENTRENCHED by their very definition and thus it is in their interests to NOT change the current system, why? Because they now have the money to cross license, which their competitors won’t have silly!

            Once upon a time Apple and MSFT were the new kids on the block, they didn’t change the system except for the worse, then came all those companies that exploded during the 90s and they didn’t spend a dime on patent reform either, they just signed cross licensing agreements in the hope of keeping the next guy out of the market. if you have enough money to change the system YOU ARE PART OF THE SYSTEM so it is in your best interest NOT to change it!

            The already have Valenti’s dream (may he rot) of "forever minus a single day" in copyrights, how long until the megacorps start to use their influence to extend patents as well? I can already give you the argument they will use, they’ll say because of the global recession one simply can’t make back the money spent on R&D in the alloted time, they should therefor have an extension until the crisis is over, of course the extension won’t go away, and then more will be added.

            The ONLY way to compete in an arena full of 800 pound gorillas is for you yourself to become an 800 pound gorilla What will you do if Google decides that ‘do no evil’ slogan has run its course and lock up Android with code signing? What if IBM does something similar, what can you do? you can do nothing because they already HAVE your code, they can pay developers to fork it and you have no power. No copyrights, no patents, no power. As I said RMS may dream of a communist utopia but reality isn’t socialist its capitalist and without capital you are an also ran.

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