Microsoft Sues Motorola Over Android Smartphones

Microsoft has been talking smack to Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) of late, charging the search giant's Android operating system isn't as "free" as the company says it is and hinting that Android could end up entangled in a patent infringement lawsuit.

But talk is cheap. On Friday, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) took a much bolder step, suing Motorola (NYSE: MOT) for allegedly infringing nine of the software titan's patents in its Droid mobile handsets, which are powered by Android.

"Microsoft filed an action today in the International Trade Commission and in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington against Motorola for infringement of nine Microsoft patents by Motorola’s Android-based smartphones," Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft deputy general counsel, said in a blog post.

"The patents at issue relate to a range of functionality embodied in Motorola’s Android smartphone devices that are essential to the smartphone user experience, including synchronizing email, calendars and contacts, scheduling meetings, and notifying applications of changes in signal strength and battery power," he added.

A Motorola spokesperson had no immediate comment.

"Motorola has not received a copy of the complaint, therefore we cannot comment at this point," the spokesperson said. "Motorola has a leading intellectual property portfolio, one of the strongest in the industry. The company will vigorously defend itself in this matter."

Besides suing Motorola in U.S. District Court, Microsoft also launched a complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission. The commission has the power to ban imports of products if they're found to be infringing.

Microsoft's suit requests treble damages, compensatory damages, and court costs, as well as a permanent injunction. That last item could completely undercut support for Android unless Motorola moves fast.

Motorola makes the popular Droid line of smartphones. In July, Motorola held 20 percent share of the U.S. market for smartphones, the third-largest, following LG (21 percent), and Samsung (23 percent), according to analytics firm comScore (NASDAQ: SCOR).

Android is based on the Linux kernel, so the message seems obvious.

Microsoft has been rattling its legal saber for more than three years about some 235 patents it claims that Linux vendors are infringing. However, the company has yet to sue any Linux vendors to date over the patent claims.

A Microsoft spokesperson confirmed that the suit against Motorola and the Android operating system is directly related to the earlier Linux discussion.

"Yes but let’s be clear. This action is directed at a commercial entity, not a community. Technology companies that utilize open source software in their commercial products are sophisticated, revenue-generating businesses and as such, have the ability to license patents to secure the necessary IP rights for their products," the spokesperson told InternetNews.com.

The lawsuit comes at a time when Microsoft is about to launch Windows Phone 7, its challenger to Android-based smartphones and the iPhone.

As recently as August, Microsoft executives had been banging on their shields, proclaiming that Android isn't free, and that one of the benefits to both developers and customers if they go with a Microsoft solution is that the software giant will indemnify anyone who gets sued for intellectual property violations related to the company's products.

"Our action today merely seeks to ensure respect for our intellectual property rights infringed by Android devices; and ... we are not alone in this respect," Gutierrez said in a post to the Microsoft on the Issues blog Friday.

Microsoft's move is the latest attack on Android. In August, Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL) sued Google for infringing several of its Java patents in Android.

But Microsoft's actions worry Florian Mueller, an opponent of software patents.

"These patent suits brought forward by industry giants with massive patent portfolios unmatched by Google are dark clouds over Android. Google must now act constructively and try to work out amicable arrangements with those right holders," Florian Mueller, founder of the NoSoftwarePatents campaign in Europe, said on his blog following Microsoft's filing.

"Otherwise I'm afraid that third-party application developers investing their money, creativity and hard work in the Android platform will be harmed because of an irresponsible approach to intellectual property in a market in which patents have always played an essential role," Mueller added.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @stuartj1000.


Android, Microsoft, smartphones, Droid, Motorola