Android, iOS – who stole from who?

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

The obvious answer is – who cares? But Apple fan-boys seem to like to gloat that any smartphone design (or at least any design moderately successful – nobody is looking at Symbian) is a “rip off” from the iPhone, while Android fan-boys(1) point out may cases where iOS designers “shamelessly” “got inspired” by Android features such as the pull-down notifications, seamless multi-tasking, “share” functionality, personal Wi-Fi hotspot, untethered syncing (iCloud in Apple’s lingo) and more.

So everyone copies from everyone else – that’s how a market should behave: if one product comes up with a better idea, then it is only expected that other products can build on that idea – and sometimes do it better. And don’t get me started on the patent thing – patents allow an inventor to protect the technology and implementation of a specific idea, it does not give one a monopoly on ideas (even though many today try to use the patent system like that).

The question that, I think, is more interesting to ask is – who is more willing to play this game and who treats idea as their sole domain and exclusive property?

The answer, not coming as a surprise to anyone, can be found in Apple’s founder new biography: “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson, as reported by AP review of the book set to be available tomorrow, here are some choice quotes (taken from AP’s review):

Jobs told Isaacson in an expletive-laced rant that Google’s actions amounted to “grand theft.”

“I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product.”

Jobs told Schmidt [Google’s CEO at the time] … ” I want you to stop using our ideas in Android”

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  1. of whom I am a card carrying member, I’ll admit []

Suddenly I’m Less Worried

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

About my next Android phone: Google Buys Motorola Mobility (for $12.5B).

This deal is very good for me, as a consumer of high-end smart phones, for several reasons: one reason is the more obvious patent issue: the Google smart phone OS has come under fire from competitors (mostly Apple) in a host of patent lawsuits, though none of them actually targeted Google itself: the main advantage of Android is its availability to any small manufacturer – which enabled the amazingly rich ecosystem that is the Android world, but its also its main disadvantage as competitors can target “small fish” for their patent extortion, companies that are too small to afford a real legal battle. Google wasn’t in a good position to help defend their OEMs or developers, and I believe this is what they were trying to do with their Nortel patents bids, that didn’t come through – but they had an ace in their sleeve: even as the Nortel business was going on, Google was probably already deep in negotiation with Motorola Mobility that hold a portfolio of around 18,000 patents and patent applications – compared with Nortel’s paltry 6,000 patents. With this arsenal, and once the deal comes through(1), expect Google to come out swinging.

But as I mentioned – this is only part of why I’m happy about this deal. The second, and likely more important reason as I will be looking for a new phone at about early 2012, is that I think Motorola Mobility is one of the best makers of Android running hardware – if not the best. They definitely have the market in keyboard slider phones, which is the kind I’m using. The problem is, I’m a power user – I like to use the latests and best software available and the whole point of having a small computer (read: user programmable device) in your pocket – is the ability to install and upgrade whenever something new comes out (about every couple of months). And this is where Motorola devices fail me: Motorola like to keep a lock down on any user modifications to the phone’s operating system and their devices are notoriously hard to mod – installing a new firmware on a Motorola phone is a dangerous game of “will it brick?”.

Motorola has come out with promises of freeing up the phone “bootloader” (the part of the phone’s firmware that makes sure you don’t install “unauthorized” software) but so far we haven’t see any results. I have hope that under the new ownership, Motorola Mobility developers will find it easier to keep to this promise and allow us power users to buy hardware on which we can run whatever Android-based operating system we want.


  1. supposedly by early 2012 – these things take time []

Same old Microsoft, at Nortel’s patent sale dispute

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

As reported on Reuters and Techcrunch, Microsoft is claiming that the sale of bankrupt Nortel’s 6,000 patents to Google (or any other successful bidder) is unfair under the current sale terms that allow the buyer to not carry current licenses to the patents.

Microsoft is understandably concerned, as they currently hold a “perpetual, royalty-free” license to all patents (which means that if the buyer doesn’t get to re-license with existing license holders, then they won’t get any more money from Microsoft on these patents), but what I’m ranting about is not their legitimate concern, but their attempt to color this as “unfair” – quips Techcrunch:

Microsoft says that’s unfair. And while they don’t specifically mention Google, it seems pretty clear who they’re thinking about when they write that a termination of existing licensing agreements “would result in considerable disruption in the development and enhancement of various existing technologies and give the prospective purchaser an unfair competitive advantage”.

This may be unfair, but Microsoft has done this exact same thing in the past, including the very near past where immediately after buying Skype, and just a few days after Microsoft promised that Skype will continue to be offered on non-Microsoft platforms, the “Skype for Asterisk” product was terminated disallowing Digium to sell any more Skype integration module for their successful (and open source) VoIP solution(1).

Obviously this is a move perpetrated to allow Microsoft’s competing VoIP product (Lync) an unfair competitive advantage by offering features that Digium can no longer offer – not because of technical issues but because Microsoft will not allow it.

Taking that into account, Microsoft claiming the sale of this patents to Google is unfair is just the pot calling the  kettle black.

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  1. I know that technically they did not stop supporting the module – just not allowing any new sales, but they also put a deadline to stop supporting the Skype-Asterisk integration module: it will not work past July 2013. Cutting this any sooner would have netted Microsoft/Skype a serious law suite so obviously they did the worst they could get away with []

Another patent related article

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

Another Microsoft software patent fiasco had recently hit the fan with Microsoft trying to patent a new Visual Studio feature which was knowingly copied from a freely distributed, university developed, object oriented teaching software… and retracting it as soon as the patent application was made public.

Nothing new here (except the retraction – that’s new, but this case has prior art so obvious that a blind judge on sedatives would have kicked it out of the court with prejudice). But it got curious, so I looked up the individuals named in the patent application using Google’s patent search. Here are some interesting results:

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Surprisingly enough, Adobe aren’t the bad guys

Wednesday, November 8th, 2006

After recently acquiring Macromedia (and taking over their MacrmediaAdobe Flash business), and due to the large Shopping spree, Adobe has been conducting in the recent years, buying companies left and right (and I have many more links) you’d think that Adobe is trying to corner the computer publishing market or something. Not helped by the Adobe-Microsoft PDF dispute and some Adobe patents which look not unlike Microsoft’s idea of patenting “non-obvious” inventions (no links this time – go look it up on your own), Adobe was starting to look more and more like other computer giants we know and “love” ;-).

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