Apple vs. Google: Game On

Published on March 2, 2010
by John Paczkowski

Is Apple’s lawsuit against HTC a proxy through which to strike at Google and its increasingly popular Android OS? It certainly looks that way.

While not directly named in the lawsuit, Google (GOOG) figures prominently in it simply because of the sheer number of times “Android products” are called out in the complaint. According to Apple (AAPL), “Accused HTC Android Products” infringe no fewer than nine of its patents–some dating from back to the company’s NeXT days. They are:

  • Patent #5481721: Method for providing automatic and dynamic translation of object oriented programming language-based message passing into operation system message passing using proxy objects
  • Patent #5519867: Object Oriented Multitasking System
  • Patent #6275983: Object-Oriented Operating System
  • Patent #5566337: Method and apparatus for distributing events in an operating system
  • Patent #5929852: Encapsulated network entity reference of a network component system
  • Patent #5946647: System and method for performing an action on a structure in computer-generated data
  • Patent #5969705: Message protocol for controlling a user interface from an inactive application program
  • Patent #5915131: Method and apparatus for handling I/O requests utilizing separate programming interfaces to access separate I/O service
  • Patent #RE39486: Extensible, replaceable network component system

These patents all cover operating system-level behavior. Could these behaviors be specific to the version of Android running on HTC’s devices? I suppose that’s possible. But it seems unlikely. As Engadget’s Nilay Patel writes in an excellent breakdown of the patents at issue, “Some of these patents are from 15 years ago and cover OS-level behavior–it’s hard to see how they can relate only to HTC’s implementation of Android and not Google’s OS as a whole.”

In other words, this may be an early salvo in Apple vs. Google. If that’s the case, why was it made against HTC? As I noted in an earlier post, as a contract manufacturer, HTC is an easier target.

And, of course, Google isn’t building the allegedly infringing devices. But more important, Apple and Google still work closely together on two apps that are core to the iPhone and soon, the iPad as well: Search and maps. Going after Google outright might put those projects at risk at a time (pre-iPad launch) when they need to be preserved. And Apple can always add the company to the suit at a later date.

Safer then for Apple to spank a company like HTC to make its point–unless, of course, Google feels compelled to come to HTC’s defense.

Reached for comment, Google had only this to say: “We are not a party to this lawsuit. However, we stand behind our Android operating system and the partners who have helped us to develop it.”

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