Why Apple doesn't just sue Google and get it over with

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Apple's war against Android and Google has been less "thermonuclear" and more precision sniping against key partners, with the two technology giants so far unwilling to go directly head to head.

Apple vs. Android
(Credit: CNET)

The kerfuffle between Apple and Samsung has breathed new life into the lingering question: why doesn't Apple just sue Google? Google, after all, is the architect of the Android operating system, which is the common thread tying together all of Apple's legal targets. And after the late Steve Jobs vowed to wage a "thermonuclear war" to destroy Android, Google presumably would be the most logical target.

Yet, Apple has gone out of its way to avoid attacking Google head on, instead firing off lawsuit after lawsuit against partners such as Samsung and HTC. That's because it's easier to pin blame on the handset makers, who actually generate revenue and profit from those Android phones, than Google, which gives the operating system away for free and only indirectly generates revenue through mobile advertising. It's also easier to stack up an iPhone next to a Galaxy S and point to the similarities.

"I don't know what products Google has with its name on it," said Mark Kesslen, a patent litigation lawyer for Lowenstein Sandler PC. "Samsung seems a heck of a lot easier."

The lawsuits are part of a broader effort by Apple to halt the momentum of Android, which has long surpassed iOS as the dominant mobile operating system. Apple isn't just looking for damages; it wants the phones barred from sale.

But Google's legal know-how and patent portfolio, which it recently bulked up via the acquisition of Motorola Mobility, make it a tougher legal opponent than the likes of HTC. Legal experts say that Apple could deal more damage and potentially reap a higher reward by going after multiple handset manufacturers than just by striking at Google.

The arms-length attitude of both companies may all change with Google taking an active role because of Motorola, which is embroiled in its own legal entanglements with Apple. Google itself has been reluctant to publicly step into the fray, although CNET learned that the company has been quietly lending support to its partners.

Apple didn't respond to multiple attempts for comment. We'll update the story when the company gets back to us.

Google declined to comment to CNET.

A more sympathetic case

When it comes to complicated patent trials, getting a simple story across to the jury greatly improves the odds of winning.

That's why Apple is going after the handset manufacturers instead. With the likes of HTC and Samsung, Apple can simply throw up several phones, and point to the revenue generated from the devices. By making the case more about design and feel and less about the intricacies of patents, the company has a case that jurors can understand. It doesn't hurt that after Apple itself, Samsung is the second-most profitable smartphone player in the world.

"As a plaintiff, you have an easier row to hoe if you can show the defendant makes lots of money," said Pierre Yanney, a patent lawyer who works for Stroock & Stroock & Lavan.

If a company generates revenue with an offending product, it's easier for a jury to justify awarding heavier damages, he added.

Apple could have extended the net to cover Google, legal experts say, but that would have been a harder case to argue, given Google's lack of direct revenue from Android. Still, Apple could have technically argued that the use of infringing patents by Google hurt its business, and force monetary damages, even if the revenue is indirectly gained.

Casting such a wide net would make for a more complicated case, legal experts say, and recent legal rulings may have complicated such arguments.

More vulnerable targets

The handset manufacturers, meanwhile, are also seen as weaker targets than Google. Samsung is no slouch when it comes to patents related to wireless technology, but lawyers say that it lacks the legal prowess shown by Google.

Google, for instance, recently won another high-profile patent trial, in which the company successfully defended itself against Oracle's claims that Android was based on its Java patents. As CNET has reported, Samsung opted to use Quinn Emanuel, the law firm of choice for Google.

Google, meanwhile, has been stockpiling patents from Motorola and a few other companies such as IBM, and likely has a number of more relevant patents than Samsung, Yanney said.

"Even if 99 per cent of Google's patents are irrelevant and worthless, that's still a few hundred potentially good patents," he said.

Meanwhile, Apple would likely prefer going after multiple vendors, since the company would stand to get a bigger payout, with damages coming from multiple companies, as opposed to just Google.

More important than monetary rewards, Apple is looking to intimidate the Android community and potentially to halt the sale of Android mobile devices. Taking on one handset vendor after another is a good way to intimidate the entire field and cause some heartburn among the Android ranks.

Going after Google, by contrast, wouldn't yield injunctions on specific products, since Google doesn't actually make any of them. Conversely, it's been relatively easy for Apple to get bans — even if only temporary ones — on devices such as the Galaxy Nexus or the One X.

"Ultimately, Apple wants the injunctions," Kesslen said. "It's not about the damages. They want to go for the kill and force redesign."

Via CNET.com

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BrendenN posted a comment   

I would like to see Android redesigned, at least in terms of where it presents itself similar to iOS, but only because I come from a Windows Phone 7 ecosystem where everything is so different and refreshing. There's no 'tap this to do this and then tap that to go back to that', it's wild and exciting 'swipe through this beautiful ribbon of an application to see more of its menus', and that's what Android needs. Android users don't want the dumb simplicity that iOS forces onto the market. The parts of Android that are beautiful and refreshing such as the widgets, the live wallpapers, the customisability, the flexibility to install custom launchers and even custom ROMs, THOSE are the parts we love about android.
What's interesting is that we don't see microsoft suing apple over its commandeering of the iOS lock screen camera shortcut animation or the obvious plagiarised notification bar slider from android. This situation reeks of Apple greed, and is just another reason I will forever refuse to spend a single cent on an Apple product or service, and will continue to advise my customers against the purchase of Apple products.

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