How Google drove Samsung away

Also: got a problem with Microsoft? Don't be a crybaby.

Yesterday, as the tech world went all a quiver with Amazon.com's unveiling of its new Kindle Fire tablet, and scratched their heads at the announcement of Intel's third try at a mobile operating system, Tizen, Microsoft called a little attention to itself by also announcing it had reached a cross-licensing deal with Samsung over patents it claims Google's Android violates.

Naturally, the actual patents were not revealed within the deal, which will make Samsung the second major smartphone manufacturer for the US market to sign a license agreement, following HTC's licensing agreement from last year.

According to Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith and Deputy General Counsel Horacio Gutierrez, this leaves only Motorola Mobility as "the only major Android smartphone manufacturer in the U.S. without a license."

Which is a pretty outlandish thing to point out, considering Google just bought Motorola Mobility.

Smith and Gutierrez's blog post was a well-reasoned piece, that worked hard to get ahead of criticism of some people (including me) that Microsoft is only doing this because their own mobile platform, Windows Phone 7, has had abysmal sales and this is their way to eke revenue out the mobile sector in which thus far they have yet to succeed.

"We recognize that some businesses and commentators--Google chief among them--have complained about the potential impact of patents on Android and software innovation. To them, we say this: look at today's announcement. If industry leaders such as Samsung and HTC can enter into these agreements, doesn't this provide a clear path forward?"

This quote is interesting because it was pointed out by Microsoft's Corporate Communications lead, Frank X. Shaw, yesterday as a paragraph the folks in Mountain View should look at closely. I took Shaw's advice and read that passage slowly, and came to a conclusion that I'm pretty sure Shaw wasn't promoting.

The last line of the paragraph in particular struck a familiar chord. If Samsung and HTC will go along with this, shouldn't everyone else? This sounds just like something my 10 year old would say to me right after she's gotten herself in trouble. "So-and-so and such-and-such were doing it, so I did it too." Like a child would, Microsoft is justifying its approach because it has managed to get others to go along with it, so therefore Google should, too.

Google, by the way, isn't buying Microsoft's reasoning, either. Their reaction was swift and furious:

"This is the same tactic we've seen time and again from Microsoft. Failing to succeed in the smartphone market, they are resorting to legal measures to extort profit from others' achievements and hinder the pace of innovation. We remain focused on building new technology and supporting Android partners."

The use of the term "extort" was telling, since it walks right up to the line of accusing Microsoft of criminal activity. It also had the effect of degenerating the conversation between Microsoft and Google into the intellectual equivalent of kindergarden, thanks to Shaw's initial response to Google's statement:

"Let me boil down the Google statment [sic] they gave to @parislemon, from 48 words to 1: Waaaah."

I find this kind of statement enlightening, because to me it reflects Microsoft's true attitude about their cross-licensing arrangements with Android licensees. This is what bullies say when they knock people down and take their lunch money, and Shaw, master of communication that he is, demonstrates that this is exactly how Microsoft regards other technology companies: victims or fellow bullies.

So, since we're playing in kindergarden mode, let me slip into a role I know well, that of a responsible parent. Here's what I've told my daughters whenever they ran the "but so-and-so" line past me: if so-and-so would jump off a bridge, would you do that, too?

Everyone is, ultimately, responsible for their own actions. And using HTC, Samsung, and all the other Android licensees who've signed patent deals as justification does not put Microsoft in the right. Numbers do not make things right. Might does not make right.

Samsung, for it's part, had a more mature, though no less heated, response. [Though not really, actually... see below.] "If Samsung truly believed that Google's takeover of Motorola Mobility was going to be helpful to the entire Android eco-system at large, it would have waited until that deal was closed before concluding the license agreement with Microsoft," said a Samsung official to The Korea Times. "Samsung knows it can't rely on Google. We've decided to address Android IP issues on our own."

[Author's Correction: I have just been informed that the above quote, which The Korea Times attributed to "a Samsung official," is, in fact, a direct quotation from a blog entry from noted Android critic Florian Mueller. Mueller's quote can be found in the very first paragraph of this article. I apologize for any confusion, but to be fair, I would not have expected The Korea Times story to falsely misattribute such a statement. In light of this correction, the following paragraph is now completely wrong as well.]

That's pretty telling, because it confirms that Android manufacturers were none-too-pleased with Google's acquisition plans of Motorola Mobility. Samsung clearly felt abandoned, and felt that it's only recourse to fend off Microsoft's threats was to just go ahead and sign the licensing deal. While I question the validity of Microsoft's actions, Google may also be culpable in Samsung's decision. Leave your allies hanging, and they will drop you. In this light, Google's extortion claims ring a bit hollow, too.

The only good news from all of this: if Motorola Mobility is indeed the only remaining Android user that hasn't signed a license deal with Microsoft, then clearly we're heading for a courtroom showdown of just what patents Microsoft believes are in violation. If Android is indeed in violation, then Microsoft will have legal muscle it needs to honestly defend its patents. Which is what it should have in the first place.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Open for Discussion blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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