Sunday, May 29, 2011

Top five companies asserting IP against Android have collective market cap of $734 billion

While all of the major mobile platforms have to deal with widespread "trollish" activities, Android's intellectual property problems have a variety of unique characteristics.

There's no doubt that Android's popularity and its potential disruptive effect have contributed to the fact that 44 Android-related intellectual property lawsuits have been filed since March 2010. But it isn't all just attributable to Android's market share. It's only one reason, not the only one. There are also some Android-specific reasons for this mess, some of which have to do with Google's approach to other companies' intellectual property.

Other mobile platforms also face troll problems and, in a few cases, efforts by large players to levy a patent tax. Apple, for example, is embroiled in disputes with Eastman Kodak and Nokia that fall into the latter category. But in Android's case it's noticeable that a handful of sizable, publicly traded IT companies believe Google's software infringes on their intellectual property rights. The latest major player to make such assertions is eBay (including its wholly-owned PayPal subsidiary).

I have produced a chart that shows the market capitalizations (as per the closing of the relevant stock markets on Friday, May 27, 2011) of the top five right holders that have filed lawsuits over Android, and by comparison I also show the market caps of the top five companies they have sued so far:

There's also a PDF version available for download from Scribd. You can also share the graphic conveniently on Twitter via Twitpic.

The aggregate market cap of the top five right holders exceeds $734 billion, while the corresponding amount on the right side of the chart is less than half of that ($343 billion). Roughly half of the latter amount relates to Google itself, and those assertions are about what Google does more so than about what Google's partners do.

Only Oracle and eBay sue Google exclusively, and Gemalto sues Google as well as three Android device makers. But Apple's and Microsoft's assertions are also primarily attributable to Google's alleged infringements. Even in the Samsung case, which is in no small part about infringement of design-related rights, Apple asserts utility patents, all of which but one or two are related to Android in general. In other words, those device makers serve as "proxies."

From a strategic point of view, Google faces a bigger problem than the device makers. Samsung, HTC and LG are not exclusively committed to Android and also build phones running Windows Phone 7 and other platforms. Motorola Mobility has been rumored to be building a team to develop its own mobile operating system. So if Google cannot solve Android's intellectual property issues, its device makers could even abandon the platform at some point.

In the court of law, cases are (and should be) decided on how the judges and juries view their merits. A company with a minuscule market cap has the chance to beat an Apple. However, I thought it was nevertheless interesting to see to what extent Google's approach toward intellectual property rights has brought up major industry players against it. It wouldn't be possible to draw up a comparable chart for Apple's iOS, RIM's BlackBerry or Microsoft's Windows Phone. You can find troll attacks on any of them, but you won't find claims of intellectual property infringement by several players of the nature and stature you see on the left side in the chart shown above.

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