That metaphorical "thermonuclear war" the late Steve Jobs threatened over Android might have just kicked up to DEFCON 1 status. It seemed as if the patent wars had mostly died out a bit as they faded from the forefront of the news. Sadly it may have simply been the calm before the storm. A new weapon of mass destruction was fired against Google and several Android OEMs including Samsung, HTC and more. What makes this new patent lawsuit so insidious is that the Android team has very little way to defend themselves against it.
A consortium of companies banded together in 2011 to create a proxy patent troll company called Rockstar Bidco. Rockstar's first order of business was to purchase a treasure trove of 6,000 technology patents from the bankrupt Canadian company Nortel. The sneaky thing is that this consortium is primarily owned by Apple and Microsoft, although BlackBerry, Sony and Ericsson are also members. This proxy war company just filed a patent lawsuit against Google, Asustek, HTC, Huawei, LG Electronics, Pantech, Samsung, and ZTE, alleging several different patent infringements. The attack against Google was separate and includes six patents related to serving ads in a search engine, described as “an advertisement machine which provides advertisements to a user searching for desired information within a data network”. The second attack against the Android OEMs includes a group of seven patents. These pertain to navigation through electronic interfaces or to an integrated message center.
What makes this attack so difficult to deal with is that Microsoft, Apple and the other companies can simply claim that Rockstar acts independently of their operations. Furthermore, since Rockstar is only a patent holding firm and doesn't actually produce any products, Google and the Android team has no way to counter-sue. In fact, several ongoing deals are still in place between some of these companies which are at war with each other because of this. For example, Apple and HTC have a patent-licensing deal. Also, in case you didn't notice, Sony is part of the Rockstar group, despite the fact that it also builds Android products.
Despite these odd alliances, the patent wars have just stepped up to a whole new level of nastiness. In the long run, these types of patent troll companies do nothing but hurt the industry and stifle innovation. At some point something needs to be changed as the system has become hideously broken.