Another year has come and passed, and technology rolls on. While I write for this blog in my spare time, I admittedly have not been updating as much as I could given the amount of material I have to work with. It occurs to me that, for all the reporting I have done on the legal disputes involving Apple, Google, and their competitors, I have yet to sit down and write what I know about them. Therefore, to start off the new solar cycle, here is a summary of why Apple and Google have been fighting in court for years. I am using my own recollections of what I heard at the court trials for this article instead of relying on a certain book on the subject written by a Wired magazine contributing editor; a review of the book will come later.
In the not too distant past, mobile devices in North America were not very good for anything besides phone calls. You would hear stories about cool phones in Europe and Asia, but device manufacturers were not interested in bringing them to US shores. Nokia was the market leader in the cell phone industry with Microsoft taking most of the remainder of market share with a mobile version of Windows. I used to have a Hewlett-Packard PDA that ran Windows, but I didn’t particularly like using the stylus and carrying the PDA around with my phone. Research in Motion was the leader in smartphones with the Blackberry line of devices, locking up the corporate market with secure e-mail communications and a full keyboard. Two companies in particular were set on changing this mobile computing environment.
Apple and Google took heavy risks to change the mobile device industry. According to Eric Schmidt, former CEO and current chairman of the board of Google, Google had bought the Android startup without knowing what exactly they would do with it. The company then saw the opportunity to break the market control Microsoft and Nokia had over mobile devices by working with Sun to develop an open source mobile operating system and distribute it freely for any company to modify as they saw fit and install on their own devices. Negotiations broke down with Sun because Sun wanted more control over the project than Google was comfortable with it; more money was not going to solve that problem. Android now has the biggest market share in the smartphone market. On the other hand, the designers at Apple were trying to fit OSX, the Apple computer operating system, onto a mobile device like a tablet. According to the testimony I heard in court, one day Apple CEO Steve Jobs and his design team decided that their phones sucked and that Apple should design their own. In January 2007 Jobs revealed the iPhone, a device that fit in your pocket and was able to browse the web, place and take phone calls, and play music. The iPhone was met with high praise and extraordinary commercial success, and the iPad tablet introduced a few years later only reinforced Apple’s new hold on the mobile computing market. While Apple’s mobile operating system also known as iOS does not have the same market share as Android, Apple’s profit margin on selling its devices has enabled the company to become the most valuable company in the world surpassing Coca-Cola.
The relationship between Apple and Google broke down. Apple believes Google and other business partners ripped off the iPhone and iOS to bring Android as devices running it to market. Eric Schmidt used to serve on Apple’s board of directors, and Steve Jobs was close friends with the Google founders. Furthermore, South Korean electronics company Samsung provides components to create Apple products, and evidence presented in the Apple v. Samsung case shows that Samsung was reviewing the Apple devices in its components division. Apple believed Samsung did this in order to create directly competing offerings. Apple has not sued Google, but Apple has sued other device manufacturers creating Android products like HTC and Motorola, which is now a Google subsidiary. Samsung is the largest manufacturer of Android devices and the most profitable, which would explain why Apple and Samsung have yet to settle their cases against each other. Google is fighting off a lawsuit brought by Oracle, who bought Sun during the economic downtown and decided that Android was too closely based on the Java programming language for Google not to pay Oracle anything in license fees.
The legal battle continues another year, so here is what to expect. A jury decided that Google had not infringed Oracle’s patents by making Android, and a appeals court will rule soon whether Oracle can claim a copyright on the sequence, structure, and organization of a programming language API. If the appeals court sides with Oracle, we might need a new trial to determine if Google owes Oracle anything since the jury could not decide if Google’s use of the Java API to build Android was protected under fair use law. Apple and Samsung are wrapping up their first jury trial in San Jose with the damages retrial determining that Samsung still owes Apple hundreds of millions of dollars for infringing on Apple’s design and software patents. Samsung has tried countersuing Apple on patents related to cell phone wireless technology but has not gained much ground; the jury ruled Apple was not infringing, and the President overturned an International Trade Commission ban on imports related to Apple’s ability to manufacture these devices. The same judge that oversaw the first Apple Samsung case will hold a new trial to determine if the Google Voice functionality infringes on patents Apple owns related to their Siri universal search system in their mobile systems. This could all be settled out of court, but all parties have the motive and resources to demonstrate that they were doing nothing wrong and do not deserve the attacks on their reputation from business partners that used to be closer.
In an effort to promote myself better, I should have another original article next week posted on the blog. I have been reading a book on the Apple Google conflict by Wired magazine editor Fred Vogelstein, and I want to share my perspective on what he has investigated on the subject as well as my own review of his book. Here’s to a year of freedom, prosperity, and continual advancement of technology.