Google is the world's biggest smartphone operating system maker in terms of market share. But it and its partner OEMs are facing legal assaults from all angles. Some lawsuits are coming from the typical patent troll firms. Others come from competitors who want see Google's products banned (e.g. Apple, and still others come from large companies looking for lucrative licensing deals (e.g. Oracle and Microsoft ).
I. "If We Don't Hang Together... We Shall Hang Separately
Thus far only Oracle has directly attack Google over alleged Android intellectual property infringements. Microsoft and Apple have focused their attacks on the OEMs (although Apple is indirectly suing Google through its subsidiary Motorola Mobility).
Some have complained that Google is doing too little to protect its OEM partners. But on a Wednesday visit to Taipei, Taiwan, Google's Eric Schmidt promised to offer a greater legal defense to its partners. He commented, "We tell our partners, including the ones here in Taiwan, we will support them. For example we have been supporting HTC in its dispute with Apple because we think that the Apple thing is not correct."
Mr. Schmidt's comment refers to a sale of intellectual property, which HTC purchased from Google at a dramatically discounted price. HTC had very little intellectual property to countersue with when Apple first sued it in 2010. But thanks to the Google IP acquisition and the acquisition of graphics patents from recently purchased chipmaker S3 Graphics, HTC now has some legal fire power and is countersuing Apple.
The pledge of mutual defense is at least a little comforting to Android OEMs as it's the best case scenario for them to arise out of Google's recent $12.5B USD acquisition of Motorola Mobility. That acquisition created fears that Google might favor its own handsets over third-party devices. However, those fears do not appear to have been realized and it appears Google is primarily utilizing Motorola's IP for mutual defense as some had hoped.
Google has been outbid on several key patent acquisitions, including the Nortel portfolio, which was purchased by Microsoft, Apple, and others. But with the Motorola Mobility IP trove, it still has significant legal resources, even as it eyes more acquisitions.
II. Apple is Biggest Threat, But Microsoft Could Tempt OEMs to Stray
At present the biggest threat to OEMs is arguably Apple. Apple is seeking an outright ban on Android products from the platform's top three OEMs -- Samsung ; HTC; and Motorola Mobility. Apple has a burning hatred for Android. Late CEO Steven P. Jobs called Android a "stolen" platform and pledged to spend his company's entire fortune to "destroy" Android, after the Google platform passed his company's in market share.
Microsoft offers a more subtle threat as the fees are stacking up and some Asian phonemakers like Samsung or HTC are reportedly considering upping Windows Phone production in response to the decreasing Android profit margins.
Comments Concord Securities analyst Ming Chi Kuo, "Android hardware companies and supply chain are mostly from Taiwan. The main purpose of Schmidt's trip for this time should be to gain more support and closer collaboration with the Taiwanese here. Taiwanese vendors have been users of Windows operating system in the past, especially the handset vendors, so Google has to come here to get more support for its applications in the tablets and, possibly, personal computers in the future."
Mr. Schmidt, Google's current Board Chairman and former Chief Executive, visited with Samsung and LG on Tuesday, looking to plan mutual strategy in terms of IP defense and drum up ongoing support for Android.
III. Making Friends in China
The Google executive also looked to garner support from handset makers in China, a crucial emerging market, where Google has clashed with government regulators in the past. Earlier in the week Mr. Schmidt visited China's capital city, Beijing.
On Wednesday he had supportive words of Google's commitment to China commenting that Google wanted "to serve China's citizens within the limits the government allowed."
It's hard to say exactly what to take away from Mr. Schmidt's weekend in Asia or his big commitments to helping protect Asian Android OEMs. The proof of the company's true level of commitment -- and how much that intervention helps the partners -- will be seen in the court cases that are going to unfold in international markets over the next year.
At the very least, though, Google seems to be starting to get the correct perspective. After all you don't start a revolution without unity. In the words attributed to the Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, "If we don't hang together, by Heavens we shall hang separately."
The quote certainly sums up the legal plight of Google and its partners tidily.