Indistinguishable from evil

Indistinguishable from evil

Rockstar vs. Google: How the patent trolling we hate taints the companies we love

I like to riff on Arthur C. Clarke by saying any company, sufficiently large, is indistinguishable from evil. I've used it before when referring to Google's disrespect for copyrights, flip-flop on net neutrality, disregard for privacy, and, through their Motorola subsidiary, horrendous violation of the very spirit of standards-essential patents. And I'm using it again now to describe the actions of the Rockstar consortium - the entity that purchased Nortel and Novell patents, bankrolled by Apple, Microsoft, BlackBerry, and others. They've sued Google over search-related patents, which is an attack against the heart of Google's business. It's patent trolling, which is a revolting practice.

Motorola's actions don't excuse Rockstar's, nor vice versa. Nor is either illegal. They are, simply, one front among many in a vast, international war. And, it's nothing new. It's a reminder of how venomously these companies take their current competition, and how much they value winning. At any cost.

It's also an important reminder that we, as consumers, should never be loyal to the companies we purchase from. They should be loyal to us. Every decision we make should be a decision anew, based on the conditions of the moment, and only on who is best serving our needs, and the needs of our society at the time.

Here's some further reading on Rockstar vs. Google. I recommend all of it:

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Indistinguishable from evil


This was only a matter of time.. Surprised it took them nearly 2 years to go after Android.. Only thing that will really end all these patent lawsuits is a reform and considering how slow things are in that are I don't expect anything to happen in the next decade at least. Lol unless the government themselves get sued for patents it will never stop.

Rockstar is going after Google. Apple is involved in Rockstar, but Rockstar isn't Apple.

I'm tempted to make a land-war-in-Asia reference here but I won't.

Gruber retweeted that Apple owns a 58% interest in Rockstar. That means Rockstar can do nothing without Apple's explicit approval. For all intents and purposes, Rockstar *IS* Apple, except as a shell dodge against countersuits.

I don't doubt that. It's still not a subsidiary, nor wholly-owned by Apple. In no intents and purposes is Rockstar Apple, though Apple may well control or heavily influence their actions.

I'd imagine shells will, as I mentioned above, will serve the same purpose as Asia and Latin America did during the cold war.

This does not smack of patent trolling, it *is* patent trolling. (Technically, as the Ars article points out, it is patent privateering, which is trolling with a legal dodge behind it.) While Google is no saint, the false equivalence drawn here is absurd. Googorola had some justification; after all, Android was defending against other lawsuits at the time, and the purchase also got them into the hardware game.

With Rockstar, Apple (and Microsoft) have zero such justification. There was no hardware reason to buy these patents, and any defensive rationale evaporated the moment they traipsed off to East Texas. They purchased a set of patents from a defunct company with the express purpose of using them offensively, through a shell consortium as a firewall against countermeasures. That the technical side of Apple makes great stuff in no way excuses this despicable behavior from their legal and executive suite. At Seth tweeted last night, Apple has lost all moral high ground here. You can no longer say they are just protecting their rights within the system; they are a primary reason the system is as @#$#@ as it is.

The best we can hope for is that an expensive, drawn out suit over a patents like a 15 year old one about visually navigating through a stack of documents will bring the whole system down. It sure as hell is not protecting or driving any innovation here. But when the primary drivers of this system are companies the size of Apple and Microsoft, that possibility is depressingly remote.

The fact that Google has bankrolled so many lawsuits like this against Apple. They had it coming. F#ck Google, I really hope this lawsuit huts them where it hurts.

Ah, yes, from Florian -- the analyst who wrote articles against Google during the Oracle trial and repeatedly neglected to disclose he was being paid by Oracle at the time, even in articles written after he was outed. Of course, Florian neglects to mention the lawsuits were started before Google took control of Motorola, and, that by the time Google took ownership, Andorid was already the target of several lawsuits by Apple. That does not make the suit philosophically "right," but it makes it understandable as a defensive chip, and certainly is not an instance of Google going on the offensive.

That's exactly what Steve Jobs said Apple would do. At iPhone introduction, they said they would patent it, and go after anyone who they felt violated those patents. The patents have since held up after being appealed. Is that considered offensive or defensive?

Who cares when these suits were started? Google could have stopped them once they took ownership.

There are no good guys or bad guys in this, there are only companies working in their own self interest, using the law to their advantage as much as possible. I give Apple more of a pass because they are not being hypocritical. They are doing exactly what they said they would do. Google on the other hand has denounce patents and said that they shouldn't be used like this, and yet they do it anyway.

Jobs said "we'll buy unrelated patents for technology we did not invent, set up a front company to avoid legal repercussions, and use that as a blunt instrument to club our competition?"

Could you link to that part of the keynote? I missed it.

It's somewhere in the back. ;-)

But, when comparing the two companies here, let's not forget that Google was also trying to buy these patents at extremely inflated prices as well. Had they won, would the results have been any different? The names would switch and it would be Google suing Apple, and fewer people would care about it.

It's not a comparison, though everybody here seems to want to make it one (including me, when I responded to Rene's initial comparison in the article.) Had Google bought these patents, and used them to go on the offensive, I would be kvetching just as loudly at them.

But they didn't. Apple did.

Patent privateering is a better word for it. I'm not sure that's a fair portrayal of Google. They scanned author-owned books without approval, switched allegiances on net neutrality, stamped on online privacy, took Java without a license, and their behavior as owner of Motorola has been disappointing to say the least. They have a long history of incredibly hostility against anything that interferes with their agenda, and my guess is in a few decades we'll all realize we should have feared them far more than we did when it mattered. (Of course, they do an incredible amount of awesome stuff as well - companies, like people, are complicated.)

I don't think Google bought Moto for hardware at all. For many accounts, they were all but blackmailed into doing it. Now they have it on their hands, hopefully they can do something great with it. But they had direct, absolute control over Motorola and they engaged in suits against SEP. That's it. Done. No more rose-colored glasses. They're just another tech company.

I'm not sure what the structure for Rockstar is, but they don't appear to be a wholly-owned subsidiary of Apple. That doesn't excuse Apple for their part in the suits, but it does provide context that's also being lost.

It's difficult to balance innovation vs. theft, and in every industry. I don't have answers. I agree the current system is a failure.

Years ago DC sued over Captain Marvel - Shazam - saying he was an outright copy of Superman. Many industries litigated themselves into licensing a long time ago.

Mobile is young. These are pre-teen companies with too much money, greed, anger, and fast cars. It won't end well, least of all for us.

As noted above, Google's involvements in these suits occurred after Andorid was already under attack by Apple (and Microsoft). Am I a fan of Google's behavior here? No more than you, actually, but the legal shenanigans they have perpetuated after absorbing Motorola is at least understandable in this context as an attempt to construct a defense.

*THAT* is the difference here, and where your false equivalence fails. There is no evidence to suggest the legally evil things Google has done would have been initiated except as a defensive countermeasure, whereas Rockstar was deliberately and specifically created, with Apple as the majority owner, to go on the offensive.

Edit: Link to Article Gruber RT'd:

"It’s important to remember that Apple, with a $2.6 billion investment, owns some 58% of Rockstar"

What if scenario: If Apple hadn't been part of Rockstar Bidco consortium, would they have been sued by them, or whomever won the bidding? which case I'd be bitching at whoever that winner was, and on behalf of Apple.

And if a fish had wheels, it would be a bicycle.

No question Google was either naive or stupid on this bid. Even if you think the patents in question are absurd (from the summaries, I'm inclined to think so, but I haven't read the text yet), you don't screw around with a patent in the mix that could point at 95% of your revenue. Of course, they could just be supremely confident that they can convince a court the patent is absurd - which brings us back to stupid or naive.

As it turns out, the other possibility would have been to have a Google led consortium buy these patents. Google has not been a very honest steward of the Motorola patents it has bought. The best thing that could have happened was for these patents to go into the public domain.

Nice article by Rene. While I agree Google is no saint (especially in the privacy front), at least they haven't sued anyone over patents and seem to be one of the few tech companies taking a stand against the NSA.

I am a little surprised Cook went down this road as he seemed like a guy with some integrity.

This may be a gross generalization but whether or not Cook is a nice guy, he probably will be pressured by the economic team and probably realizes it has to be done if you are such a giant company.

They're all dirty in this. And they have billions. One day, one of them will hand a check to another. A different day, the other will hand a check to the first. It's the little companies that get caught in the middle that are hurt the worst (like Lodsys suits).

Cook also didn't go down this road. He doesn't run Rockstar. Like Google and Motorola, the blame here is in not stopping it.

Apple set up the consortium under Cook's watch, and owns a majority stake. To claim Cook (or Apple) does not run Rockstar is to deny reality.

That's an equally incorrect assertion. Apple owns a majority interest. It's unclear where the control lies. (I haven't been able to find anything that declares how the consortium is run - simple controlling interest?)

They're responsible either way, so it's a pedantic difference.

I've yet to see any corporate arrangement in which the majority owner (or bloc) did not have control.

Except for charity offshoots, but Rockstar ain't one.

Apple is also part of MPG LA and Intellectual Ventures, I believe, though not a majority part. I have no visibility into how any of these entities run, but I wouldn't be surprised if a pretense of "arms length" wasn't maintained.

Rockstar's webpage is horrifically pretty. Like step ford site.

I'm sure there is just that - a pretense, but ultimately, I agree that it is hairsplitting. Cook is surely not on the phone daily with Rockstar, but just as surely Rockstar cannot initiate any non-trivial action without Apple's approval.

So, a pedantic difference, but what fun would comment threads be without them? :)

except Apple does own controlling interest of Rockstar. As for Google stopping Motorola, the lawsuits were all filed before Google took over, it may have been possible they couldn't pull out.

All the lawsuits were filed prior to Google ownership? Google had no ability to stop any of them?

Like I said in the article, Google's not limited to Moto either. Scanning books, taking Java, flip flopping on net neutrality were all uniquely their own actions.

And again, none of it means anything more than all big companies disappoint.

Apple's been a part of patent holding companies and lawsuits long enough for me not to have hoped that. They sued Microsoft over Windows long ago.

Google has sued many people with patents, especially Apple and Microsoft. Google has also been convicted of illegal activities around their standards essential patents. Google tried to force other companies into licensing their non-standard essential patents to Google in exchange for a license for standard essential patents. This type of deal is against the law, without providing a cash only fair and reasonable option, which they did not provide.

Slight correction -- there is no law anywhere that mandates a cash only option. "Fair and reasonable" is entirely at the discretion of the parties negotiating the agreement.

If everyone will pay whats fair and reasonable for patents that are clearly not your own then the system works. Google is then the outlaw with multiple high crimes. Not just minor traffic violations as in misdemeanors.

I think it's closer to a game of Texas Hold 'em. Google went after this same patent pool and lost the hand to Rockstar. This is the next hand. Who's going all-in?

Nice article and references.
Riff response again echoing Arthur C. Clarke (Earthlight) who in turn echoed Talleyrand, "What is treason? Merely a matter of dates".
RR on MBW & iMore pcasts √√. Thx & keep up the interesting & entertaining work.

FINALLY! Gruber and Jim seem to have blinders on and it is saddening to see them be so wrong. I just knew, by the title, you'd have another "me too" post agreeing with them but I'm pleasantly surprised in your stance. Props!

One point of correction:
"...through their Motorola subsidiary engaged in a horrendous violation of the very spirit of standards-essential patents."

They weren't owned by Google when they filed the suit.

Google had no beef with that but clearly pre-Google Motorola seemed just as vile as Apple and the others. It probably explains why the former CEO got kicked to the curb instead of finding work within Google.

Then you are the one who has blinders on. Google lend HTC patents to sue Apple a few years back. Remember that little ditty?
There are no good guys or bad guys here. Just business.
Lets face it. Google ripped off Apple with Android. And through a ingenious "free" licensing scheme and business model, protected themselves from direct litigation. In reality, Google has been engaged a worldwide surrogate war of patent litigation with Apple for the past 4-5 years. First, Motorola, then HTC and Samsung. And as the Rene observes, this is the next logical extension of that.

Did I say Google was pristine? I remember the HTC thing but it wasn't out of nowhere so HTC could start a suit. It was after they were in a suit already.

You can miss me with the ripped off bit. I don't even want to go down that road but know I disagree completely.

They filed suits while owned by Google, and Google didn't end the suits either.

Again, there's only blame here. Maybe this is how modern mobile business is run? Wow but that's depressing.

First result in Google for Motorola lawsuits:

Filed 2013 against Microsoft.

Again, the distinction you fail to make (and which I failed to clarify in my response above, my bad) is that post-Google, even Motorola's actions have been reactive. Florian would never write about it, because it goes against the story he tells, but the reassertion in 2013 is a direct response to the patent transfer game Microsoft has been working in 2011 and 2012 against Google.

Does that make Google's actions pure? Of course not, but it is far easier to understand the guy who hits back than the guy who orchestrates a 4.5 billion dollar campaign to hit first.

I get that, but it's a slippery slop. Google undercuts Microsoft's business model by giving away software for free - software that they may not have legal right to give away, depending on your point of view - and Microsoft's responds, defensively, by suing to raise the cost of Android above free.

It doesn't make Microsoft's actions pure either, but it's difficult to pretend the lawsuits against Google came out of nowhere either.

Fair point, but two problems:

1) There is no "point of view" - either somebody has a legal right, in which case too damn bad that somebody outcompeted you, or they do not, in which case you should be allowed to litigate to protect your rights.

2) What makes Rockstar/Apple so egregious is they reflect neither of the above. Unless you seriously consider Apple to have been damaged by Google showing paginated results for the past decade, it is hard to conceive of any scenario where Apple is protecting its rights or it's property. They saw a club, bought a club, and are bashing somebody with it simply because they can. If you don't see that as an unalloyed evil and a successful precedent creating biggest threat to an innovative, competitive marketplace yet, then nothing will convince you until Apple itself gets hoisted on this particular petard they are creating.

I agree there Rene but this isn't about purity. It is about stating facts, not misinformation.

Don't take my distaste in my original comment as treating Google as incapable of being sued because they're some white knight.

It is pretty funny how all pro-Apple pundits say they should have just dropped the suit. You know it isn't that easy. There are shareholders involved and dropped a suit is equivalent to throwing money down the drain; even more than if they kept fighting due to lost legal/lawyer fees and what they'd owe Company X for losing.

Agreed on only blame and the depressing state of mobile business. These patents fights are ridiculous and no one wins...just business entities.

I think this is clearly a case where Google just got too damn cute with itself. They made all the joke bids and then got outbid. I think Rockstar filing on October 31 is no accident either because this is a nightmare for Google. I have no issue with what Apple is doing because this is a pure case of self defense. This war started the day Google, a long time Apple partner, decided to go head to head with Apple by buying Android. All bets were off then. Since then Google has been nipping at Apple be it endorsing and continuing the Motorola suits or helping HTC or standing by while Samsung fights a war by proxy for them. Apple just simply had enough and it's in clear evidence here. More or less Apple just said not only are we going to go after Android, we're going to go after your core business now since you've been such jags and dropped the mic. My hope from this is the patent wars come to an end, Google is going to have to settle and I don't think the Rockstar partners will settle for anything less than a comprehensive agreement to end the BS.

Hope that Google takes a large large hit. They've had something like this coming with all the sh!t they've pulled in the past.

I'm with you Rene, but in reality, this is the way the system works. However, the consortium that purchased the Nortel and Novell patents create products and services that can benefit from those patents. The fact that they can also now stir things up at Google is just a natural next step. But this is in contrast to a real patent troll, like VirnetX, who is nothing more than a holding company, collecting dollars on the backs of other technology companies. They forced Apple, through litigation, to cripple their FaceTime technology, resulting in less efficient connection techniques. This directly translated into poor FaceTime quality and, I'm sure, hampered other technologies, from many other companies. All I'm saying is that there's a difference:
VirnetX and other holding LLCs: Evil
Rockstar consortium: Business as usual

Good post Rene, love your stuff!

I can't claim enough knowledge of the system(s) to understand the nuances and subtleties at play here. My point, if I had one, is that everyone is patent-dirty. There are no heroes, and we shouldn't try to pretend there are.

I buy Apple devices and I use Google services, but I'm not doing it with blinders on. I understand they're complicated, sometimes amazing, sometimes disappointing companies. And it's their job to fight for me, not the other way around.

Rene, this post is far from being fair. Defending intellectual property is not evil, it is legitimate business. Do I think the patent system needs reform? Yes. Copyright seems better than patents, but as we saw with Oracle, Google doesn't hesitate to copy thousands of lines of others code.
The evil company here is Google: they sue for injunctions with SEPs (which is dishonest, unethical and possibly a violation of their agreements); they copy and steal other companies' code and ideas; and they dump "free" products on the market which crushes out actual software companies who can hardly compete with this massive ad agency.

"as we saw with Oracle, Google doesn't hesitate to copy thousands of lines of others code."

This gets repeated by everybody who has an axe to grind with Google, particularly around here, and it is 100% not true.

There were 9 -- NINE -- lines of code found to be copied. Specifically, one rangeCheck function, which the judge was quoted as saying that a high schooler could program, and which Google had removed long beforehand.

*ALL* the rest of the code in question was written from the ground up, with the exception of function signatures and class hierarchies - -the structure, sequence, and operation of the language, which has been established in 30 years of case law as uncopyrightable, since they are 100% required for any interoperability or fair use.,_sequence_and_organization

The letters from Rubin et. al. made it fairly clear what Google's intentions were with regards to Java. How hard would it have been to get a license from Sun, one of the most open of the big tech companies in the world at the time?

Given Eric Schmidt's relationship with Java, common sense alone should have dictated a clean-room strategy.

Their intentions were to use Java, and, when they did not/could not acquire a license, they wrote their own VM from the ground up, and yes, using a clean room strategy. a VM completely independent of Java (the VM) but that could compile Java (the language) to its own bytecode, All of which is perfectly aboveboard and legal. Except in Oracles mind (and the 9 lines of rangeCheck), where is the evidence that the engineers did anything other than a clean-room strategy? The Judge clearly thought there was none.

Their intentions, based on their internal communications, didn't read as above-board. I hadn't seen anything on a clean-room, but hiring Schmidt, given his position in Java at the time, made the entire thing smell funny. Prudence should have led towards licensing, not what appears based on their communications to be an attempt to get around it.

That Schmidt was also on Apple's board through the iPhone launch smells just as funny.

Show convincing evidence that the Dalvik VM had any contamination in its development. That's really the only question here. I find it telling that in 3 years of arguments and with access to relevant code bases, Oracle could not, but if people prefer to keep make assertions based on a perceived smell, rather than the evidence, I suppose that's their prerogative.

The real winners in all this is the lawyers. They make money from the patent lawsuits. They usually write the laws of the country. What a great field to be in! Can you imagine a world without lawyers? Asked one Mr. Lionel Hutz.

I prefer a fair competition between companies (if there exist such a thing) but this really sucks and it doesn't benefit the users. I don't want to live in an GoogleWorld or AppleWorld, we must have options and they need to fight for my money while pushing the envelope on what's possible/great. Google screwing with Microsoft and not offering their basic apps (e.g. youtube) for Windows 8 platform is somewhat a dirty move, but not releasing Office on the iPad is also a kind of defiance. I understand that, unfortunately this court case isn't a fight for survival (just more money).
Here the problem is that Microsoft & Apple represent the old status quo (if not for them Google wouldn't probably be Google right now) and Google is change and a new kind of doing business. I don't like status quo because look at what has happened with the car industry (hundred years and we still use four wheels and the same fuel). If that's progress then I hate the human race, but I know it's the fault of huge companies that like to make piles of cash the way it suits them best. Thank God new inventions weren't stopped this way, imagine if we had to still use horses, or railroad or ships have blocked airplanes, and let's not forget that others didn't go bankrupt and electricity didn't become mainstream. To that horror I say - evolve or die.
That said, I don't know if I want either side to win, the one time rebel/thief of the past Microsoft is the dinosaur that isn't changing quickly enough with the times, Google (is almost as bad as Facebook if left unchecked) wants my personal info and sell more ads, while Apple wants to continue with their proven successful road that they wrote rules for. Apple really is a cold, calculating empire obsessed with rules/restrictions while Google represents democracy but who's to say that they won't transform into an even bigger monster in the near future ?

...." attack against the heart of Google's business."
Been waiting for this for a very loooong time!

".... It's patent trolling..."
Why don't we talk about your shiny new iPad Air a little more, eh? ;)

The first article is completely inaccurate. I have a Galaxy S3, and Samsung chose to place their own apps in place of the Google ones. Every app that it compares the Samsung and Google version of I can easily download the Google Version from the Play Store. I also have yet to use a custom ROM that cannot have Google apps easily flashed to it. Actually with a little Android know how you can flash all of the Google apps to the Kindle Fire as well.

The second article has already been correct to prove some inaccuracies. Such as the dialer showing advertisements soon. It will search for the number calling you to see if it is a business and display the info, but that is hardly an ad. Also the code he pointed out as advertising code disappears and reappears in various Android version updates. This is not the first time it has been spotted.

I don't see a problem here. Android was the first OS in the world. Every OS steals ideas from Android. Android was the first with the icon based OS, the first OS to include letters on the phone keypad, the first to do everything. Nobody did moving backgrounds on any OS before Android. Everyone steals from Android.

and Apple applies for patents on technology it never actually innovated, but likes to use. Business is business, and it gets more and more disgusting on a regular basis.

Based on the title of the post, I thought this was going to be an article about nailing "GooPhone".
Seriously, how the hell are they able to get away with their mass iPhone counterfeiting?!