By Claire Cain Miller, The New York Times
SAN FRANCISCO — Steven P. Jobs minced no words when talking about Android, Google’s mobile operating system, which he saw as too similar to the iPhone’s.
He told his biographer, Walter Isaacson, that Android was “a stolen
product” and said, “I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.”
But so far Apple
has not gone to war with Google, at least not directly. Instead, Apple
has sued the cellphone makers that use Android in their products — like
Samsung, which was hit with a claim of more than $1 billion in damages
on Friday when a jury found that it had infringed on some of Apple’s patents.
Now, though, the war is drawing closer to Google’s doorstep. Google
is increasingly making its own hardware, thanks in part to its
acquisition of Motorola Mobility, or playing an integral part in
designing it, as it did with the Nexus 7 tablet. And
the jury in the Samsung trial found that features built into Android,
and not just features added by Samsung, violated Apple patents —
potentially forcing Google to adjust its software.
It would be difficult for Apple to prove that Google is benefiting
financially from patent infringement, or that Google, and not the
hardware manufacturers, is directly responsible for potential damages
caused to Apple, said Robert P. Merges, faculty director of the Center
for Law and Technology at the University of California, Berkeley. That
could change as Google makes or designs more products itself.
If Apple really went after Google, Mr. Merges said, it could end up
hurting its own products. The iPhone includes a Google search bar in its
Safari browser, and Google offers some popular apps, like one for
Gmail, in Apple’s App Store. A direct attack could compel Google to
remove such features from the iPhone and make it a less attractive
product to consumers, he said.
Google declined to comment on whether it would make changes to Android.
But when it comes to features like tapping to zoom, it may have to
“design around” Apple’s patents and safeguard itself and its hardware
partners, said Robert Barr, a law professor at the University of
California, Berkeley and former patent counsel for Cisco Systems.