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A claim by a Google executive that Microsoft, Apple and other IT industry giants are using patents "as a weapon" to slow the growth of Google's Android mobile operating system has set off a tit-for-tat row between Google and Microsoft that shows no signs of subsiding.
The squabble has put a spotlight on the increasing use of technology patents by IT vendors to gain and maintain a competitive advantage.
The dispute began Wednesday when David Drummond, Google vice president and chief legal officer, posted a blog entitled "When Patents Attack Android" in which he argued that competitors, led by Microsoft and Apple, have banded together in "a hostile, organized campaign against Android" that's being "waged through bogus patents."
Drummond cited the acquisition of a number of Novell patents by CPTN Holdings LLC, a consortium of companies that includes Apple, EMC, Microsoft and Oracle, for $450 million; and the acquisition of patents from Nortel by an Apple-led consortium for $4.5 billion, as evidence of its competitors' efforts. Google had made an offer to acquire the Nortel patents, but was outbid.
The Google executive also pointed to Microsoft's demand that Samsung pay it a $15 licensing fee for each Android handset it sells, because Microsoft maintained that the Android handsets use technology covered by Microsoft patents.
"Patents were meant to encourage innovation, but lately they are being used as a weapon to stop it," Drummond wrote. "This anti-competitive strategy is also escalating the cost of patents way beyond what they're really worth."
"We’re not naive; technology is a tough and ever-changing industry and we work very hard to stay focused on our own business and make better products. But in this instance we thought it was important to speak out and make it clear that we’re determined to preserve Android as a competitive choice for consumers, by stopping those who are trying to strangle it," Drummond said.