Google's Schmidt brushes off Android patent suits as 'legal fun'

Pledges Google support to HTC, other Android partners

If Google Chairman Eric Schmidt is sweating the multiple patent suits being filed against Android vendors, he sure isn't showing it.

During a question-and-answer session at Google's Mobile Revolution conference in Tokyo Tuesday, Schmidt dismissed patent lawsuits filed by tech heavyweights Apple, Microsoft and Oracle as "legal fun," according to a report from ZDNet Asia. Schmidt suggested that the suits, which have been filed against high-profile Android vendors such as Motorola and HTC, were the result of envy at Android's success during its rapid rise as a mobile operating system power.

"We have seen an explosion of Android devices entering the market and, because of our successes, competitors are responding with lawsuits as they cannot respond through innovations," he said. "I'm not too worried about this."

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Schmidt also voiced confidence that Google could help HTC overturn an International Trade Commission judge's initial ruling that HTC's Android-based smartphones had key features that infringed upon two Apple patents, ZDNet Asia reported. While Schmidt didn't go into details of how Google planned to assist HTC, he said that the company stood by the handset manufacturer and pledged that "we will make sure they don't lose." HTC is currently appealing the judge's initial verdict and expects a final verdict to be reached later this year.

Even though Schmidt has vowed to help HTC in its fight against Apple, the Taiwanese device manufacturer has already cried "uncle" in a previous Android-related patent dispute with Microsoft. HTC last year entered into a licensing agreement with Microsoft that, according to a report by Citi analyst Walter Pritchard, essentially sends Microsoft $5 every time HTC ships an Android-based device. Asymco analyst Horace Dediu has estimated that Microsoft is now generating $150 million in revenue just from shipments of Android phones, or more than five times the estimated revenue Microsoft has made from selling Windows Phone licenses.

Google's involvement in helping HTC defend itself against Apple is a reflection of the threat the lawsuits pose to Google's model of offering device makers a free-to-use mobile platform. This is especially true because, as software patent expert Florian Mueller wrote last week, the technologies covered by the Microsoft and Apple patents are central to Android itself. For instance, take U.S. Patent No. 5,946,647, which covers the technology used in Android's Web browser to automatically redirect users to applications based on on-screen data. This technology is used on Android devices whenever you click on phone numbers that automatically direct you to the device's dialer or on addresses that automatically redirect you to Google Maps. As Mueller notes, it's hard to imagine Android devices running without this key feature.

"[F]undamental elements of Android's technology and architecture are at stake," Mueller said. "It's hard to see how any Android device could not infringe them, or how companies could work around them."

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