BT joins patent war against Google's Android

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British Telecom is the latest company to file patent infringement charges against Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android open-source mobile operating system, claiming billions of dollars in damages in a suit filed late last week.

The BT suit, filed with the United States District Court for the District of Delaware, contends Android services infringe on six BT patents, all but one of them awarded during the 1990s. "The patents in question relate to technologies which underpin location-based services, navigation and guidance information and personalized access to services and content," a BT spokesperson told The Guardian. "BT's constant investment in innovation has seen it develop a large portfolio of patents which are valuable corporate assets."

BT seeks damages as well as an injunction. The filing states "BT brings this action to recover the just compensation it is owed and to prevent Google from continuing to benefit from BT's inventions without authorization." A Google spokesperson told The Guardian "We believe these claims are without merit, and we will defend vigorously against them."

On his FOSS Patents blog, intellectual property activist Florian Mueller notes that BT is the fifth large, publicly traded company to bring patent infringement litigation against the Android platform, joining Oracle, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and eBay. Digital security firm Gemalto also has filed suit against Android. "With so many major patent holders asserting their rights, obligations to pay royalties may force Google to change its Android licensing model and pass royalties on to device makers," Mueller adds.

The Oracle suit, filed last year, seeks billions in damages against Google, alleging "approximately one-third of Android's Application Programmer Interface (API) packages" are "derivative of Oracle's copyrighted Java API packages" and related documents. (Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems and its Java programming language in April 2009.) According to court filings submitted in late June, Oracle wants Google to pay $0.9 billion to $1.4 billion upfront for infringing on its patents. Oracle also wants 15 percent of mobile advertising revenues generated across the Android platform. Late last year, Google said its mobile ad business operates at a run rate of $1 billion annually.

In August, Google senior vice president and chief legal officer David Drummond published a scathing blog post alleging that Oracle, Apple and Microsoft are attempting to "strangle" the Android platform by leveraging "bogus patents" that could drive up costs for devices running the OS. Drummond adds that Google's rivals have banded together to acquire patents held by firms like Nortel and Novell "to make sure Google didn't get them... Our competitors want to impose a 'tax' for these dubious patents that makes Android devices more expensive for consumers. They want to make it harder for manufacturers to sell Android devices. Instead of competing by building new features or devices, they are fighting through litigation."

Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt has pledged support for manufacturing partners facing patent lawsuits related to its Android. Speaking last month to reporters in Taiwan, Schmidt promised Google will offer allies information sharing, industry expertise and access to its patents for licensing and legal purposes. Both Samsung Electronics--the world's largest Android device maker--and HTC Corp. are battling patent disputes with Apple.

For more:
- read this Guardian article
- read this FOSS Patents blog entry

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