A tangled legal WebTechnology aside, Google's ability to innovate is also constrained by legal concerns. Tech companies are increasingly using the courts as a means to gain competitive advantage, particularly in the more hotly contested markets. As a result, Google and its partners must answer to multiple ongoing lawsuits over patents and other intellectual property.
Google's Android smartphone OS has become a particular snake pit of litigation. Most prominently, Oracle claims Android's Dalvik virtual machine violates several key Java patents and is seeking billions in damages. Meanwhile, Gemalto is suing Google and its partners HTC, Motorola, and Samsung over patents related to its Java Card technology. NTP alleges Google has violated its wireless email delivery patents. Microsoft has signed patent licensing agreements with at least five Android device makers, while Apple is seeking an injunction banning HTC from importing its handsets.
It seems anyone involved with building Android devices can expect to find themselves in court sooner or later, and the patent-licensing toll may soon rise high enough that it negates any cost advantage of the otherwise "free" OS. Google's recent purchase of 1,000 patents from IBM may slow the tide, but won't stem it.