If you can’t compete, litigate. This train of thought has been quite prevalent among major technology companies as of late, most notably by Apple and Microsoft, who both cannot compete with Android on merit, so they have to resort to patent lawsuits and FUD. Both Asustek and Acer have revealed that Microsoft plans to impose royalty fees upon the two Taiwanese hardware makers to prevent them from shipping Android and/or Chrome OS devices.
Google’s Android is doing incredibly well. Its rise has been nothing short of stunning, and the mobile operating system, once dismissed as a toy for nerds and geeks, is currently well on its way to becoming the world’s most popular mobile operating system. Some companies are not happy about this, and while the ideal situation would be for those companies to compete on merit, the sad reality is that they prefer the way of the lawyer.
Apple already showed its true colours earlier this year when it sued Taiwanese phone maker HTC with a bunch of software patents, targeting Android specifically (but not Windows Mobile). Once, the iPhone seemed unstoppable in its journey towards mobile phone market domination – but then Android came along, and turned the tide. Apple, who obviously can never keep up with the rapid development pace of several phone makers all by itself, sued HTC to send out a signal: we may not be able to keep up with you, but we can sue you.
Microsoft is in a different position, but the end result is the same. Microsoft has already become irrelevant in the mobile business, and needs to pretty much start from the beginning with Windows Phone 7. By all accounts, it looks like a very promising platform, but as it turns out, Microsoft simply does not have a lot of confidence in its own product, and as such, has resorted to the same despicable tactics as Apple: patent suits and FUD.
Microsoft does have a different angle, though. Microsoft can’t compete with free, and as such, needs to jack up the perceived price of an Android installation. They do this by dredging up some software patents, and by using the utterly broken US patent system, they mafia manufacturers into paying protection money for every Android device sold, thereby levelling the price difference between Android and Windows Phone 7.
After HTC decided to pay protection money (most likely because the Taiwanese phone maker doesn’t want to fight a patent war on two fronts), Microsoft went after Motorola, who probably refused to pay said protection money. I wouldn’t be surprised if LG and Samsung are up next.
In the meantime, though, Asustek and Acer received a visit from Microsoft’s mobsters. These two companies aren’t particularly high volume when it comes to phones, but they are the two major netbook makers, and have dabbled with Android netbooks, and are most likely the two companies who will play a major role in delivering Chrome OS netbooks and Android tablets.
Microsoft, who has been caught completely off guard by the current tablet market, does not have a suitable tablet operating system. Windows 7 is awesome as a desktop operating system, but doesn’t work on a tablet. Anything Windows CE-based could work, but device makers would need to set up their own application stores and write their own interfaces. It simply makes a lot more sense to go with Android and/or Chrome OS.
Microsoft can’t compete, so they litigate. “Microsoft plans to impose royalty fees on Taiwan-based vendors of Android handsets for using its patents in e-mail, multimedia and other functions, with Acer and Asustek Computer being targets in an actual attempt to prevent the two vendors from adopting Android and Chrome OS for their netbook and tablet PCs, according to Taiwan-based makers,” reports DigiTimes.
Common sense would dictate that this kind of mafia conduct should not be possible in a market, but alas, the US patent system is so utterly broken, and the people who have the power to change it are so utterly incompetent, that it’s become part of conducting business in the US.
It’s a sad state of affairs. Microsoft and Apple, despite what many of their fanboys think, close friends and business partners, have clearly teamed up to pound Android into the ground – not by releasing better products, but by litigating. Microsoft will mafia companies into paying protection money or suing them otherwise, and Apple resorts to redefining the concept of open and other forms of FUD, not afraid to throw a lawsuit around either.
And us consumers are the ones paying for it.