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The Rockstar Consortium Players

The lawsuit filed by patent troll Rockstar Consortium Inc. on Halloween against Google and at least five makers of Android handsets is about much more than merely the tons of money that would be reaped if the Rockstar cartel prevails. Mainly, it’s about gaining a competitive edge that could result in increased market share down the road.

It might be a good idea to take a look at the five companies that make up the Rockstar consortium to see what they might have to gain from this suit, other than the collection of damages and licensing fees.

Microsoft: One way that Microsoft might be hoping to gain from the Rockstar litigation concerns their search business, as the suit seems to target Google not for Android related issues but for search technology. Microsoft has been trying gain traction in search, with little luck, since 1998 when they launched MSN Search. According to Search Engine Watch, Microsoft’s current search effort, Bing, had a market share in June of 17.9% compared to Google’s 66.7%.

Most companies would have given-up long ago and just removed themselves from the search business. For some reason, however, Microsoft refuses to give-up on search and over the years has come up with scheme after scheme to make themselves a major search player. They can only be hoping that this action will be enough of a distraction for Google to cause them to drop a few points in market share which Bing could then pick up. Unless, of course, they’re thinking this will bring Google to their knees, which ain’t going to happen.

In addition, Redmond is undoubtedly also hoping to gain a competitive edge with their Windows Phone if they can hamper the Android makers with more patent licensing fees.

Apple: Back in the days when Apple was on the ropes and Steve Jobs was just returning from exile, many in the FOSS community saw the company as a kindred spirit, primarily because both open source and Apple faced a common enemy in Microsoft. Some of us knew better and understood that if Apple were to ever become an industry giant they’d be just as ruthless as our shared enemy in Redmond. That’s certainly been proven to be true, especially since the launch of the iPhone.

The Rockstar litagation would seem to be just a continuation of Apple’s ongoing battle with Android makers. Although the folks in Cupertino reached a settlement with HTC about a year ago, they continue to do battle with Samsung over mobile patent issues. Apple’s goal would seem to be the total destruction of Android or any other mobile operating system. They think they invented the smartphone.

BlackBerry: In less than five years, BlackBerry went from being the certified rock star of mobile (pun intended) to being a dead man walking. Two and a half years ago, when the Nortel patents were first obtained by the unholy alliance known as Rockstar, BlackBerry was still a major player in the mobile world, but they were sinking fast. Earlier this year, BlackBerry put itself up for sale and was set to ink a $4.7 billion deal with Fairfax Financial which suddenly fell through just days after the Rockstar litigation was announced and BlackBerry took itself off the market.

In the days between the legal filing by Rockstar and BlackBerry’s removal of the “for sale” sign, there was some speculation online that Google would simply purchase the Canadian company, thereby becoming a Rockstar partner. The purchase of BlackBerry was probably doable, as BlackBerry’s agreement with Fairfax stipulated that the company could consider other offers until November 4th, the day the deal fell through.

At this time it’s difficult to see how this lawsuit could help BlackBerry’s market position, as the brand is already antiquated.

Ericsson: This Swedish based company held a 35 to 40% market share of installed cell phone systems in the 1990s, but pretty much lost that in the early days of the 21st century. These days they’re a provider of wireless network equipment with a market share of 38%, making them the world’s largest. They also have extensive patent holdings. Ericsson’s interest in Rockstar is probably for their own patent protection and for the cash flow that Rockstar’s licensing efforts could bring them. Although they might have other motives, they’re not readily apparent.

At the time that Ericsson entered into the Rockstar cartel they were still in the business of manufacturing mobile phones in a joint venture with Sony called Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB. That association ended in February, 2012 when Sony acquired Ericsson’s interest and renamed the company Sony Mobile Communications.

Sony: The Tokyo based company’s wholly owned subsidary, Sony Mobile Communications, is currently the fourth largest maker of smartphones globally, best known for the Xperia Z1, a waterproof phone with a 20.7MP camera that runs Android. If other Android makers were found to be infringing on the Nortel patents, this would leave Sony to be the only Android maker unencumbered by these patent liabilities.

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Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux.

8 comments to The Rockstar Consortium Players

  • W. Anderson

    Since Rockstar is a “patent holding’ company that of itself has no technology innovation and produces no technology products or services, it then falls squarely into the category of despicable “Patent Troll”.

    The European Union has taken some steps to disallow software patents in the member 27 countries, as this Rockstar group could therefore sue innovation development in the EU, even if there were no patent or copyright infringement, but simply to overwhelm the defendants with draconian and costly litigation.

    If this is the new face of technology in the twenty first century, albeit of excessively greedy, obnoxious and stupid behavior, then consumers of this groups’ technology worldwide are to become their slaves.

    Microsoft has always attempted to litigate their advantage, but Apple has recently become just as stupid. Approximately one year ago, Apple tried to have copyright quashed of the ‘EMACS” editor that was created in 1960s by computer scientists at MIT, when Apple could not identify an advanced editor if it kicked them in the face.

    More recently when Apple’s mobile maps program was a total disaster, they implemented the “Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) Open Street Maps (OSM) application rather than license Google Maps. Low and behold, Apple refused to abide by the ‘legal” copyrights of OSM and even today, it is not known clearly if they changed to legal compliance.

    Such is the mentality and actions of these behemoths, including Google, Samsung and a few others that are out of control and a detriment to all us technology users.

    Thank GOD for FOSS, the free Software Foundation and those in this group that can “financially” anf”legally” defend themselves against the Rockstar type sickness, and continue the quest.

  • Eddie G.

    @ W.Anderson- Well said! I wonder what will become of these companies in the future? I mean eventually more and more people will come to realize they’ve been duped all these years. Imagine the great “Exodus” to F.O.S.S…..that would point the noses of these dinosaurs right towards us! And the whole FOSS community would have a giant target on their back! BUT.,….since it’s all open source software and code….I guess they’re just powerless to stop it huh? Here’s to hoping the EU will trash their lawsuit for good, and stop al this senseless suing over frivolous things!

  • Mike

    @Eddie

    “since it’s all open source software and code….I guess they’re just powerless to stop it”

    No they aren’t. We should be worried. Moves have already been made to circumvent free software through hardware. Things like Microsoft’s “Secure Boot” are becoming more common…devices which have locked down boot loaders which check digital signatures on anything they load. Through this, companies can have their cake and eat it too…they can even use modified ‘free’ software, even to the point of distributing the source (if they felt pressured enough to comply with the license) but still prevent you from making any changes whatsoever.

    Open hardware is the solution. Open software is no longer enough to ensure freedom.

  • I hope this is the straw that breaks the back of software patents. We’ve known for a long time how bad they would be. Maybe this will enlighten everyone else.

    rjb

  • MichaelAdeBose

    “Apple refused to abide by the ‘legal” copyrights of OSM and even today, it is not known clearly if they changed to legal compliance.”

    If it is still not known clearly, why? It sounds like you’re saying FOSS lacks enforcement, teeth or both. FOSS licenses should contain a code of conduct clause for vested interest, that stipulate corporations that become part of these patent cabals, or demonstrate a tendency to hit potential innovators with empty lawsuits for the purposes of being burdensome are no longer free to use FOSS and must remove it from any shipping products. Give bad actors less money to buy lawyers by forcing them to spend that money on their own R&D.

    Meanwhile…”Open hardware is the solution. Open software is no longer enough to ensure freedom.” Yes! That’s a step but demonstrable market power is what gets vendors to work with you. Members of the FOSS community positioned the iPhone, Android, Ubuntu and Red Hat. Where did the first devs for iPhone and Android come from? On the iPhone it was the kind of people who were happy to be getting BASH in the move from OS 7 to OS X. The people who read everything they could about Cocoa and were the first to get their iTools usernames. FOSS devs are always the first movers and town criers of the new and great machinations of the winds of technology. However we have yet to learn how to coalesce those contributions and successes into market power. What did the FOSS community get for not waiting to see if there was money to be made on the iPhone?…why an ever more restrictive developer agreement of course. FOSS users like to complain but we continue to put money in companies that take that very money and purchase lawyers and lobbyist that come right back and limit what we can do. Thus as big an issue as secure boot is, we have to be willing to consider that performance (Intel) and what’s in the best interest of our personal computing aspirations (AMD, MIPS/RISC) are choices that we’re already making without thinking. Yet, what’s to stop Microsoft from ambling up and making the same request or any other vendor. FOSS needs to be able to say, ‘It’s our community that’s banging open the doors for Red Hat and we can do that for you too.’.

    All that said, FOSS protection should be separate from FOSS use, in relation to corporate entities. Any entity that wants one would become FOSS Certified (totally cursory), meaning all start in the good graces of FOSS, now just don’t loose it. Then there needs to be a “FOSS Preferred” type deal. FOSS users see it, they know they’re getting a platform that is not limited in any form or fashion. A crazy EULA can result in a non-preferred finding btw.

  • Here is prior art to invalidate the advertizing patent.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBEtPQDQNcI

    Start at 9:00.

    P.S. This should also invalidate the “rounded corners” design patent.

  • Andrew

    “Microsoft has always attempted to litigate their advantage, but Apple has recently become just as stupid. Approximately one year ago, Apple tried to have copyright quashed of the ‘EMACS” editor that was created in 1960s by computer scientists at MIT, when Apple could not identify an advanced editor if it kicked them in the face.”

    I guess you’ve forgotten that Apple first sued Microsoft for ‘copying their GUI’ in 1988. Apple’s stance has always been litigate first, innovate second. Microsoft’s direction hasn’t typically been litigation, though it has often been used in a threatening manor. Their traditional approach has been to create anti-competitive agreements with major OEMs forcing them to bundle Windows on virtually everything. They also abused these agreements to try and kill competitors like Netscape.

    Microsoft definitely created an illegal monopoly using those sort of tactics, and they have definitely used threats of litigation to extort money from competitors (like they are doing now with Android), but Apple’s history reeks of similar behavior.