Microsoft has mounted an indirect legal attack on Google over its highly successful Android smartphone operating system, accusing handset maker Motorola of patent infringement for including the software in its own devices.
The action adds to a growing pile of lawsuits over Android that has been filed by some of the tech industry’s leading names in recent months.
However, the legal challenges have not slowed the momentum of the software platform, which overtook Apple’s iPhone software in the second quarter of this year in worldwide shipments, according to research group Gartner.
Earlier this year, Apple sued HTC, the Taiwanese handset maker, alleging patent infringement in its Android phones, while Oracle attacked Google last month, claiming Android illegally included elements of its Java software.
On Friday, Microsoft filed claims with the US International Trade Court and in a Federal court in Seattle, accusing Motorola’s Android handsets of infringing nine of its patents. The claims cover some of the most basic functions on smartphones, including the way they synchronise with e-mail held on servers, as well as with calendar and contacts information.
While the suit targets Motorola, “the patented features implicated in the action are in the Android platform” itself rather than in technology added by the handset maker, said Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft’s deputy general counsel.
Legal actions tend to be filed against a handset’s maker rather than producers of the underlying software or other technologies in the device, since the hardware producer takes on direct responsibility for “clearing” the intellectual property rights involved in their products, according to one legal expert.
Motorola said it would “vigorously defend itself” against the Microsoft claim, while Google said: “We are disappointed that Microsoft prefers to compete over old patents rather than new products. Sweeping software patent claims like these threaten innovation.”
The action comes shortly before the launch of handsets running Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 operating system, a delayed response to touchscreen smartphones such as Android handsets and the iPhone.
The timing did not appear to be a coincidence, suggested Al Hilwa, an analyst at IDC: “I have no doubt that Microsoft wants to make sure everyone understands the value of the IP protection that comes with licensing their products, as opposed to unprotected software like Android where the device makers have to fend for themselves.”
However, Microsoft dismissed suggestions that the lawsuit was designed to slow down adoption of Android.
“We have a very strong bias in favour of licensing,” said Mr Gutierrez.