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Android’s Dominance Is Patent Pending

IP lawsuits threaten to raise the cost of making Android phones

Android, the mobile operating system from Google, has been on a tear over the past two years. Its share of the smartphone market rocketed from less than 3 percent to 48 percent during that time, according to research firm Canalys. Some analysts even think Android could one day be as dominant in mobile as Microsoft was on desktops in the 1990s.

Yet there’s one thing that may stop, or at least slow, Android’s ascent: patent fights. Google and HTC, Motorola, and Samsung, the three largest manufacturers of Android handsets, have each been hit with lawsuits claiming their mobile software violates others’ patents. To some extent, this is normal. Silicon Valley powerhouses have long wielded their patent portfolios to extract concessions from rivals. But Google, with fewer patents of its own and lots of enemies, is in a uniquely poor position. “This is an arms race,” says Christopher Marlett, chief executive of investment bank MDB Capital Group. “Other companies have more bombs than Google—and they’re not afraid to use them.”