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.