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Microsoft Sues Again Over Android, Targets Motorola

Microsoft has sued Motorola over its use of the Android mobile operating system in smartphones, alleging that patents held by Microsoft were violated.

The lawsuit was filed today in the U.S. District Court for Western Washington, as well as at the International Trade Commission, according to Microsoft's announcement. Microsoft alleges that Motorola infringed nine of Microsoft's patents.

"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," said Horacio Gutierrez, corporate vice president and general counsel of intellectual property and licensing, in a released statement.

In a blog post, Gutierrez cited one particular Microsoft technology, Exchange ActiveSync, which helps deliver messages on devices. He emphasized that lawsuits in the mobile space are less about radio technology these days. Instead, smartphones are becoming more like computers, and so the lawsuits are more about the software stack that enables that kind of functionality.

A Motorola spokesperson said that the company hadn't yet seen a copy of Microsoft's complaint, but it would fight the allegations.

"Motorola has a leading intellectual property portfolio, one of the strongest in the industry. The company will vigorously defend itself in this matter," the spokesperson stated via e-mail.

At least nine models of Motorola's smartphones use the Android mobile operating system, a free Linux-based OS that has been overseen by Google and released into open source by Google under the permissive Apache license. Motorola lists its Android-based phones here, which include the heavily advertised Droid line. The company just announced this week that Verizon is selling a limited-edition Motorola R2-D2 Droid phone that's themed after the R2-D2 "Star Wars" movie character.

Microsoft's legal move against Motorola may now seem like something from "The Empire Strikes Back," but this lawsuit over patents allegedly violated by the Android OS isn't Microsoft's first. The company settled with mobile device maker HTC in April after HTC agreed to pay royalties to Microsoft over patent violations associated with Android.

HTC, in addition to getting sued by Microsoft, is a Microsoft partner, and is expected to roll out a Windows Phone 7-based smartphone on October 11. Samsung and LG Electronics also are expected to roll out Windows Phone 7-based devices at that time. Those smartphones are expected to be offered by AT&T as part of its mobile phone service.

At the time of the HTC settlement, Gutierrez said that Microsoft had been "talking with several device manufacturers to address our concerns relative to the Android mobile platform." However, those other device makers weren't specified. In response to a question sent on Friday about whether other device makers were targeted, Microsoft was unequivocal.

"Companies need a patent license from Microsoft if they are building Android devices," a Microsoft spokesperson stated by e-mail. The spokesperson also indicated that Microsoft was not being inconsistent with its Supreme Court appeal in the i4i case, where it is arguing that the standard of proof for patents is too high.

"We believe that the position that we are taking with the Supreme Court will lead to better patents and more respect for the patent system generally," the spokesperson explained. 

Tivanka Ellawala, chief financial officer for Microsoft's Mobile Communications Business Division, told financial analysts last month that Android "does infringe on a bunch of patents and there are costs associated with that," even for other patent holders besides Microsoft.

One sign that Microsoft isn't the only company gunning for Android is Oracle's lawsuit against Google, announced in August. Oracle is claiming that Google's Android stepped on Oracle's Java patents acquired with the purchase of Sun Microsystems in January. According to Al Hilwa, IDC's program director for applications development software, one of the main reasons that developers like Android is that it is easy to code applications if you know Java.

"Java developers can work with [Android] readily and easily because to them it looks like Java," he said in a phone interview.

Microsoft sued Motorola and HTC because that's where the money is, Hilwa explained. Google doesn't profit from Android directly but it expects to gain ad dollars from searches on the phones, he added.

"Companies regularly engage in licensing discussions and deals with their partners and competitors, who are often the same," Hilwa explained in an e-mailed statement. "These lawsuits come up when there is a breakdown in the discussions. Android was a great gift to the industry, but lawsuits like this are beginning to throw doubts on its provenance."

Microsoft changes royalties for the use of its Windows Phone 7 operating system on mobile devices, and that charge includes legal indemnification. With its Android lawsuits, Microsoft is sending a signal to device makers that using Android isn't "free" -- at least in terms of legal costs.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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