Android: Google’s Anti-Troll Strategy?

Long before Google and the Open Handset Alliance announced the Android platform to the world, there were plenty of folks speculating that Google might be concocting their own smartphone – the mythical “gPhone” – sparked by Google’s acquisition of the fledgling Android OS and its parent company waaaaay back in 2005. The mass realization that Google actually had no plans to build their own handset led to a lot of temporary disappointment, but if Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s recent proclamation that “Android adoption is about to explode” is any indication, that disappointment has worn off.

But then, yesterday, we learned of something big happening in a different corner of the smartphone world: Nokia has sued Apple over 10 patents that it claims are infringed by the Apple iPhone. What’s this got to do with Google and Android? Other than that it got me thinking, pretty much nothing…

Illustration by Bob MacNeil
Illustration by Bob MacNeil

Nokia – which happens to be the world’s largest designer and manufacturer of mobile telephony products – is not a patent troll. But there are a lot of patent trolls out there, lurking under the moss-covered bridges of the intellectual property world. They’re companies whose only purpose is to collect patents and try to assert those patents against companies that actually create things. Perhaps Apple’s current situation – which will probably end in a settlement, if BGR’s prediction comes true – is a touch illustrative of why Google never actually designed a phone of their own…

By staying focused on the software stack and the user experience that Android provides, Google has leveraged their expertise and ability to execute to achieve the best of both worlds: They promote their services (and, in turn, monetize their efforts) through tight integration with the Android stack, and let the phone manufacturers – who already have the licenses and IP agreements in place in order to manufacture phones – take care of producing the hardware. By open-sourcing the Android operating system, and basing that system in large part on a foundation of open code, they garner even more protection from patent trolls; it’s awfully tough to find patents to assert over ideas that are in the public domain!

The lesson to take away from all this? Perhaps it’s that Android is proof-positive that a company can choose a path that’s good for their customers, good for the computing community at large, and simultaneously good for the company. This certainly isn’t the first time Google has struck that balance – and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

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