Microsoft wants to make Android more expensive, Apple wants to make it less usable

Microsoft wants to make Android more expensive, Apple wants to make it less usable

An administrative judge at the International Trade Commission (ITC) has issued an initial determination that HTC is infringing on 2 Apple patents, which -- in a worst case scenario -- could result in an import ban of iPhone-competing HTC Android smartphones. HTC's stock has taken a hit since the ruling, obviously, but it's important to remember it's an initial ruling and a lot can change between now and any final decision, including an agreement between HTC and Apple, similar to HTC's existing agreement with Microsoft.

Florian Mueller from FOSS Patents doesn't think that's likely, however.

For Apple this is not just about money. They're not going to let HTC build fully functional smartphones and tablets in exchange for $10 or $20 per device unless HTC owns patents that Apple absolutely needs to license.

It's a fallacy to assume that Apple v. HTC is just the usual patent dispute between two large players, and therefore going to have the same kind of happy end. This one is different. From a shareholder value point of view, what Apple needs to achieve -- even if it costs a lot of time and money -- is as much of a technological gap as possible between its own products and the Android-based products offered by HTC and other vendors.

In other words, as Florian discussed in our World War Patents podcast, while Microsoft seems to want to make Android more expensive, Apple wants to make it less usable.

HTC meanwhile, could be fighting back using a company called S3 as a proxy. HTC's chairwoman is a major S3 shareholder, but S3 has to do what's best for S3 and that could end up being a licensing agreement with Apple that doesn't end up providing any cover for HTC.

I could imagine a situation in which Apple might agree on a partial cross-license that would grant Apple access to all of HTC's and S3's patents while HTC would get access to only some of Apple's patents: maybe just enough so that HTC can at least continue to sell Android-based products of some kind, but those products could be limited and there might be substantial degradations of the user experience.

Google, for their part, is continuing it's terrifying silence on all things patent related, including a remarkable non-answer by Larry Page during the latest financial results conference call. This probably means they're either playing their cards very close to their ninja vests, or they're just not concerned with how this might play out, including the unlikely possibility of HTC switching to Windows Phone exclusively, just to avoid any more patent-related headaches.

Check the link below for Florian's full rundown and his excellent "battlemap" visualization of the dispute.


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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Reader comments

Microsoft wants to make Android more expensive, Apple wants to make it less usable


So with one worthwhile phone OS left (lets face it, nobody is seeing BBOS as cool anymore and WP7, no matter what, will still have WM stigma lingering), how long before it starts taking the iPod route?
iPod, once it reached the top of the heap, never really did much to stand out after that. They increased size and that was it until Touch came.
I'm not really worried so much as Android being gone, there are other good's just the fact of wondering how long before Apple goes for other companies they deem a threat (which I'm not knocking, it's business and they have to do what they have to do). And if not a threat, how long before they just sit back and become "Microsoft" in nature. Living off their high market share and only needing to do something big when a threat arises.

As I explained to my friend on the situation. I'm in no way happy about this at all. BUT in the current state of the world, property rights is what we have to follow. If Google or any of the OEMs for Android WILLFULLY infringed upon patents that belong to someone, then they have to pay.

This falls under the same light as those old ignorantly stupid laws in the lawbooks that no one abides by, because they're dated and broken. If Apple is trying to take out Google's Android, then you can see what kind of future you have for the iPhone. One where it wont change or get amazing new features, a day and age where they'll sell you a mediocre upgrade for the rest of your lives. I mean why bother.. if you're the only one playing the game.

An easy way I think Android could avoid this is by just changing the "Linkify" portion of it. Instead of linking to a specific function based on the text, why not copy the text then from there analyze the data and give options on what to do with the data. Not specifically linking to one specific function...since that's what the patent itself is speaking on.
If I did read the patent correctly, the main infringement is the point of identifying the set of data as a number/email/address then directing it to the specific function that would handle that.
If, for instance, I tapped a number and it provided options to copy or call, wouldn't that be different enough to not be infringing on said patent since it's not really 'linking' to the dialer directly?

Apple has patented the context-sensitive link for a phone number? Really? And their idea of competition is legally clubbing anybody who tries to see a phone number as a phone number?
Apple = Lodsys + $300B

Looks like Apple and Microsoft are planning on taking out Android. Knowing they can't take out Google themselves, they know that they can take out the people who make Android. Why would anyone want an expensive yet, unusable phone?

Crap like this is why I switched back to Android from an iP4. Apple's business practices are despicable. If Apple somehow made the only smartphone in the country I would rather go with someone else's dumbphone than support Apple. They will never get another penny of my money... Ever.

To quote Rene's linked piece:
"Now, the patent system as it currently exists is broken beyond the point of embarrassment...It's a terrible system, but it's the system we're stuck with. And it's the system Google is stuck with as well."
There is another possibility here that neither Rene nor Florian consider -- that Google is setting themselves up (or resigning themselves) to be the test case that highlights the absurdity of the system enough to force some changes. After all, Google has never had a problem with various system-level patents (e.g. Google pays feeds on the consortium's various patents on wireless radios), but has turned a blind/naive eye to things like Apple's link-to-a-phone-dialer patent, Amazon's 1-click patent, or Microsoft's patent on page up/page down. (For that matter, Apple itself appears to substantially ignore the latter two, unless there is some cross-licensing agreement going on behind the scenes.)
It seems like a huge gamble, but, as small as their patent arsenal is, Google is going to lose any war under the current system, so why not think differently and try to change the system?
Of course, we are also talking about a system that granted a patent for the act of swinging sideways on a swingset, so by comparison these software patents are only marginally absurd.

The actual Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and swingset patents are all linked above, but, while Disqus allows HTML links in comments, apparently the markup/css here leaves them indistinguishable from regular text. Mouseover to see the links.

Very interesting thought about Google possibly using patent disputes as a test case the absurdity of the current patent system.
Well, if Google is doing this then I sure hope put away reserve large sums of cash for patent settlements/litigation expenses among other things.
However, IMO Google is no "patent vigilante"... Heck they have not (publically) consistently shown the willingness to assist their business patners with patent disputes related to their products.

Why would they step in for partners when they apparently will not step in for themselves? If their endgame is to show the absurdities of the patent system as they are, why would they try to spackle over thhe cracks?

The same reason why Google tried to buy Nortel's patent portfolio. Google seems very lethargic (or otherwise unlucky) when it comes to patent acquisition.
Again, Google is not a "patent vigilante". Google cant just "choose" not to heed the current USTPO system just because they don't agree with it as it stands today. This would NOT be a smart business practice for a major player like Google.

You are missing the point. Of course google can't pick and choose what laws to followhey you rare the only one trying to make them the Batman of the USPTO. What they can do, however, is contest patents they feel should not have been granted, and pressure (media or government) to change the relevant processes. The more fewer patents they license, the less attention they give to trolls like Lodsys, and the more questionable patents they contest, the simpler this campaigns would be.
Not that they would be easy, not matter what.

"Innovation" cost money and it also may come with HUGE amounts of risk. The patent system is not completely broken - what is broken is some companies blatant disregard of patent laws and their sense of entitlement at the "expense" of the other innovating companies.

Some companies are much worse than others. I don't pretend to be an expert on patent legislation (nor do i want to be). However, R&D is expensive and risky and what seem to be "broad or a simple innovation" could have actually cost a company up to multiple millions of shareholder's money to design, implement, prefect and bring to market. And almost as importantly, R&D means a company devote their LIMITED human resources and time to innovate.
So for those of you who think that just because a company sues for patent infringement that they somehow "evil" - obviously you are entitled to your opinion. And in this case, if you choose not to buy Apple products because they choose not let HTC have a "free ride" with certain innovations - then good luck finding a "non-for-profit" technology provider.

Oh yeah, because Google has good business practices - please. Grow up there is no large international company without skeletons and almost everything interrelates--Ignorance would be ignoring that

The people who really make out here are not the innovators (Apple, HTC, etc.) or the non-innovators (Microsoft, ...umm?), but rather the LAWYERS.
The law is made by lawyers and for the benefit of lawyers and this is a perfect example of that fact. I'm also going to go out on a limb and offer my opinion that this is mostly true here in the United States. :-P