Microsoft's Steve Ballmer Says Android Isn't Free

Windows Phone 7 is nearly here, and it'll be facing some very stiff competition. As smartphones become increasingly mainstream with the iPhone and Android, Microsoft hopes to offer something that'll pull people away from those camps.

The iPhone will have its loyal fanbase inside Apple's walled garden, while Android caters more to those who like openness and freedom. Android also has the advantage of being free for handset makers to use – something Windows Phone 7 cannot claim the same.

If you ask Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer though, Android isn't really free. Handset makers can use the Android mobile OS for free, but there's always the chance that Microsoft will come to collect on some patent rights.

HTC learned about this when Microsoft sued it over the use of patents from Android. Rather than going after Google, Microsoft is targeting specific phone makers for the licensing fee.

Ballmer said to the Wall Street Journal, "Android has a patent fee. It's not like Android's free. You do have to license patents. HTC's signed a license with us and you're going to see license fees clearly for Android as well as for Windows."

Microsoft last week went after Motorola for similar reasons. Only time will tell how this will affect the continued adoption of Android.

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  • ares1214
    Dont worry, Apple will soon sue MS for using metal that melts, claiming MS was using liquid metal, MS will sue Apple for having an OS, Apple sues Google for having a better OS, then Microsoft sues Google for being cheaper, then Google sues Microsoft for having Bing, then Bing Sues Yahoo for its nonsense, then Google sues Microsoft for sueing them, and Apple sues everybody for breathing air, which they just put a patent on. These suits and patents are nonsense and are completely destroying things...
    28
  • ssddx
    MS is using such patents as an incentive to "go with us and not them." The reason MS doesnt outright try to challenge google is... they probably have the same amount of lawyers... it would be ugly and drawn out.

    How hilarious would it be when the win7-phone comes out....if google has a patent or two to stick up MS's ...
    26
  • Aussie_Bear
    This is the same strategy that Ballmer has used against commercial Linux providers...And it has worked; as they settle with Microsoft! MS is making money via the screwed-up US Patent system.

    (1) Microsoft cannot compete with free. Their fundamental business model is selling software licenses. It is their primary cash-cow! They are willing to use ANY means to gain leverage over competitors; preferably one that makes THEM money.

    (2) Linux is free (liberty and most often, beer); but the license its under does not protect it from a flawed patent system.

    There is no protection for you, if you happen to accidentally trample on someone's patent. The best you can do is NOT settle; but to ask for what specific patent you have infringed, so you can code around it. (That is legal, as you have a right to know. And you don't have to pay a dime in settlement)...If you had money and time to go through the legal system; the accusing party must prove the patent is legit. If they can't...It'll be invalidated.

    (3) Knowing this weakness, Microsoft will "extort" anyone who uses Linux in a commercial setting.

    The patents don't have to be legitimately court tested; just the fear of patent infringement is enough! (Some real ones can be used if the other side has a known competent legal team.)

    That is, go after folks who sell a Linux-based commercial product like a smartphone (as in the case of Android) OR as a software package (such as Novell, etc)...Interestingly, Red Hat and Canonical told MS to "get lost"; as they recognize this is nothing more than an empty patent threat.

    The point of extorting commercial solutions based on Linux with patent threats is to devalue the key characteristic of Linux: Being that its free. This is the focus of Ballmer's strategy.

    Such threats also show Microsoft is nothing more than you modern day software mafia...

    => "Say...That's a nice solution. Android, is it? You should be careful with that. Why? Well, these days, Software Patents can be a problem if you use Android. On the other hand, if you sign up with us...You'll be protected from litigation. Why not play it safe, eh? We have Windows Phone 7 coming up, why not sign up to our product?"

    As for Ballmer's HTC comment...HTC had no choice because they use both MS and Linux-based products. They were caught in a two-way tag team. Microsoft and Apple were going to sue them. So they settle with MS, such that they can focus on Apple. See the following...
    => http://arstechnica.com/apple/news/2010/03/apple-vs-htc-a-proxy-fight-over-android-could-last-years.ars
    => http://arstechnica.com/microsoft/news/2010/04/htc-avoids-two-front-patent-war-with-microsoft-pact.ars

    The only way to crap on Ballmer's parade is to intentionally create solutions that de-value Microsoft's key/core cash-cows via open source.

    But instead of selling software licenses like they do, you sell support contracts and keep your solution completely open source and under GPLv3. (They won't touch you, because they don't like version 3 of the GPL.)

    I guess in today's software industry, it goes like this:
    => Those who can; do.
    => Those who can't; sue.

    ...Thanks to the screwed-up US Patent system.
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  • Other Comments
  • back_by_demand
    Interesting, Android has some MS patents in it, so if you use it on a mobile phone you have to enter a license agreement with MS.

    So HTC knew this and signed the agreement without any fuss and Motorola didn't?

    Seems pretty clear cut to me.
    5
  • ssddx
    MS is using such patents as an incentive to "go with us and not them." The reason MS doesnt outright try to challenge google is... they probably have the same amount of lawyers... it would be ugly and drawn out.

    How hilarious would it be when the win7-phone comes out....if google has a patent or two to stick up MS's ...
    26
  • randomizer
    Are the patent infringement claims being made against Android itself or the proprietary additions included by the phone manufacturers?
    16