Android is hot…and getting hotter.

Along with its meteoric rise in popularity, the platform is generating some legal heat

Yes, Android is smokin'! It's clearly been hot in the sense of a big success, extremely popular and market buzzword. And, more recently, there seems to be some heat-generating intellectual property friction around the platform. So, hot and heated. But, the legal issues, albeit in the press because of the popularity of the platform, are just visible examples of what any organization developing with open source needs to manage.

The Android project started in 2003, two years before Google took it over. In the four or so years since the first working release, buoyed by the popularity of smartphones, the platform has climbed to an amazing 20% market share and the number two spot in the worldwide mobile handset market. Gartner projects that Android will not only outpace Apple's iOS, but will overtake Symbian for the #1 spot by 2014.

Today, Android is powering more than 60 different mobile phones and is starting to show up in tablets, ereaders, household devices like TVs and even a Saab! And application developers are certainly on the bandwagon. Last week was the first ever Android Developer Conference and it was a blowout. Having heard that the organizers planned on 500 attendees, we were amazed (and I guess they were too) when over 1000 Android information-hungry developers showed up, and thus sessions were standing room only. Due to its popularity, the organizers came up with AnDevCon II scheduled for November.

Even prior to the conference, the level of development activity on the platform has been surprising. Black Duck (my employer) produced a study of open source projects in the mobile space. 3800 new mobile project were started in 2010 and a whopping 55% of them were on Android, beating the iOS's 39%. The also-rans of Windows, RIM, Palm, Symbian, and Meego collectively make up only about 6% of the new projects.

Regarding the other dimension of its metaphoric temperature: Beyond the well-publicized lawsuits last year (Apple v. HTC; Microsoft v. Motorola, and Oracle v. Google, all of which are more patent-oriented) there's been a spate of recent activity and discussion in the press (as recently as last Friday) about Android copyright and licensing.

A recent study by Red Hat's Matthew Garrett, indicated that of the slew of new Android-based tablets, few are successfully complying with the open source license obligations, specifically the GPL. Similarly, there have emerged studies citing numerous Android apps with licensing issues. Last week, a prominent IP attorney claimed that Google may have secreted known GPL code in the core of Android and expunged the attribution. But, the next day, adding a new layer of intrigue, my fellow blogger (and intrepid sleuth) Zonker Brockmeier, reported that the lawyer has Microsoft history and further that evidence of that affiliation seems to have been recently expunged from his firm's site.

Not quite the stuff of John Grisham, but good reminders that companies enjoying all the benefits of open source need to manage the process. Call me naïve, but I always assume ignorance and incompetence before malice. If you are not paying attention, you can screw this stuff up. Android is a particularly visible and complex example of the more general problem. We'll explore that more deeply in my next article.

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