Google says Microsoft broke Android source code confidentiality agreement

Google yesterday asked the US International Trade Commission to block the testimony of a Microsoft expert witness in the latter's 10 month old action against Motorola over patents allegedly used by Android.

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Google yesterday asked the US International Trade Commission to block the testimony of a Microsoft expert witness in the latter's 10 month old action against Motorola over patents allegedly used by Android.

In a motion filed with the ITC this week, Google asked that Robert Stevenson, an expert hired by Microsoft, be barred from testifying about the Android source code at an upcoming hearing because Microsoft violated a confidentiality agreement struck between Microsoft, Motorola and Google.

Source protection

According to Google, Microsoft did not ask permission before showing Stevenson the Android source code.

"The protective order governing confidentiality in this investigation explicitly requires that Microsoft disclose to Google any consultant or expert seeking access to Google confidential business information or highly confidential source code before [emphasis in original] allowing a consultant or expert to review such information so that Google has an opportunity to object prior to disclosure," read Google's complaint.

A protective order in the case restricts access to the Android source code, limiting the number of people who can review the code and requiring that Microsoft and Motorola "give prior written notice" to Google before showing the source code to a technical advisor. Google is to have 10 days to object.

Microsoft did not do that, Google alleged, as it moved to prevent Stevenson from testifying at the hearing slated for later this month.

"The confidential source code improperly provided to Dr. Stevenson is highly proprietary source code that Google does not even share with its partners, such as Motorola," Google said.

Motorola in the dock

Microsoft submitted its complaint against Motorola with the ITC last October, and filed a lawsuit in US federal court at the same time, charging the smartphone maker with violating several Microsoft patents in its Android devices.

"We have a responsibility to our customers, partners and shareholders to safeguard the billions of dollars we invest each year in bringing innovative software products and services to market," said Horacio Gutierrez, a Microsoft deputy general counsel. "Motorola needs to stop its infringement of our patented inventions in its Android smartphones."

Yesterday's move by Google was little more than delaying tactic, said patent analyst Florian Mueller, writer of the FOSS Patents blog.

"This is a secondary theatre of war," said Mueller. "It's about procedural tactics, maybe hoping that this could cause a delay, but whatever the outcome may be, it won't change anything about the substance of this case."

Microsoft was granted permission to show the Android source code to others besides Stevenson, according to Google's motion before the ITC, so it will not be bereft of expert testimony.

Mueller also noted that Google's motion was filed by the same law firm that also represents Motorola in the case with Microsoft, and defends Samsung, Motorola and HTC in those companies patent battles with Apple. Google's filing was submitted by lawyers at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan.

"It was always known that Quinn Emanuel was close to Google, and it was hardly a coincidence that all those Android device makers turned to that firm," said Mueller. "But the fact that they make a filing on Google's behalf here, though they also represent Motorola in the same investigation, is interesting. The latest motion is a more direct kind of intervention than anything they previously did on Google's behalf."

Hostile campaign

Earlier this month, Google's chief legal officer accused Microsoft, Apple and Oracle of waging a "hostile, organised campaign against Android" using patent claims, and promised it would stop "those who are trying to strangle it."

Mueller didn't give Motorola much of a chance in the Microsoft patent challenge, and believes the ITC action presents Google and Android with its toughest test.

"I think Google is extremely afraid of the outcome of this particular ITC investigation," said Mueller. "All of the infringement assertions that Microsoft brought relate to the Android codebase. If this investigation finds Motorola and, in fact, all Android devices to infringe various valid Microsoft patents, all of Google's hardware partners will have to pay royalties to Microsoft."

Several Android handset makers already pay Microsoft licensing royalties, including HTC and several lesser known companies. Microsoft today declined to comment on Google's motion before the ITC.