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Microsoft Sues Motorola for Google Android Use; Patent Noose Tightens

Microsoft (MSFT) filed two suits against Motorola (MOT) for alleged patent infringement by the company's use of Google's (GOOG) Android smartphone operating system. Given the suit Apple (AAPL) filed against HTC for its Android-based phones, you might wonder whether Microsoft and Apple worked out a cooperative pincers legal strategy. Whatever the case, the indirect attacks could greatly hamper the search giant's attempt to diversify revenue and could put an end to its run of smartphone success.

Microsoft filed actions both in federal district court and at the International Trade Commission alleging that Motorola infringed 9 patents by its use of Android. Here are the two complaints.

Microsoft federal court patent infringement complaint against Motorola 2010-10-01
Microsoft federal court patent infringement complaint against Motorola 2010-10-01
Although the patents do not directly mention Android, they claim multiple patent infringements by "products and/or services that are covered by one or more claims of the '517 patent, including, by way of example and not limitation, the Motorola Droid 2." Call that a euphemism for Google's software.

It's impossible not to consider this suit in the light of the one Apple filed against HTC earlier this year. In that case as well, Apple filed suit in federal court and at the ITC and specifically mentioned product that ran Android.

At that time, Google issued a statement: "We are not a party to this lawsuit. However, we stand behind our Android operating system and the partners who have helped us to develop it." Of course, it all depends on what the company means by stand behind. Microsoft's take at the time? "The fact that there's litigation in this area is not necessarily a bad thing." No kidding, really?

Apple must be nervous about the breakneck pace with which Google has gained on everyone. Microsoft is starting from far behind and also sees a number of former partners, like Motorola, that have dumped versions of Windows to go with Android.

The suits are tactically smart. Neither Motorola nor HTC can so easily afford the type of money necessary for a protracted legal battle the way Apple and Microsoft easily can. And that's the point. By putting pressure on the actual hardware vendors, the two begin to tip the balance of profitability on Android from a "free" (though there are some who would dispute the bottom line accuracy of that term) piece of software to something with high indirect costs.

If Steve Ballmer and Steve Jobs can keep the pressure on, they might convince the handset companies to give up on Android and find a safer alternative that offers more legal protection. Like Windows Phone 7. Either that, or Google has to indemnify the vendors and then see high legal bills itself, raising the question of whether it makes sense to continue in the mobile business, at least with Android. That's right, it might actually be in Apple's best interest to see a long-term frenemy regain market share at the loss of its biggest competitor.


Droid 2 image: Motorola.
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