Huffington Post Article: Google’s Android Contains Legal Landmines for Developers and Device Manufacturers

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Article by: Edward J. Naughton

Huffington Post (3/16/11)

Android-powered smartphones have been creating quite a stir among the tech crowd lately — and not necessarily the kind of buzz that Google was hoping for. Oracle sued Google for infringing several patents, and it also accused Google of copying Oracle’s computer code, in violation of its copyrights. When a prominent blogger reported that he had found additional evidence that Google had copied Oracle’s code, a flame war broke out. For example, this Engadget article reporting on the issue generated more than 750 comments, most of which brought more heat than light to the issue.

But there’s more to this story than Google’s “borrowing” of Oracle’s intellectual property. The Android programming code is publicly available, and the increased attention has brought increased scrutiny. Recently, Ray Nimmer, a well-known copyright law professor, observed that there could also be a problem with the way Google used some key Linux software code, called kernel header files, to create a vitally important element of Android. In fact, the way that Google used these files creates a legal quandary for manufacturers of Android devices and many developers writing code and applications for those devices.

What did Google do this time?

Google built Android around Linux, which is an open source operating system licensed under the GNU General Public License version 2 (GPLv2). The GPLv2 is a “copyleft” license: it grants everyone the freedom to copy and modify the Linux code, but that freedom carries conditions, including the requirement that any modified software code and any works “based on” it must be made freely available to all. The very point of the GPLv2 is to make it impossible for anyone to take GPLv2-licensed code and make it private and proprietary.

Working with open source software thus demands careful attention to legal and technical details. I regularly advise clients on the proper use of open source software, and I understand well the difficulty of reusing code licensed under GPLv2, especially for developing proprietary software. I was therefore intrigued by Prof. Nimmer’s explanation of the way Google had used the Linux kernel header files when it created Android.

The fact that Android is built on open-source Linux makes it attractive to many developers and users, but it presents some concerns for others. As Android has become more popular, clients have been increasingly interested in building applications that run on Android or even using the Android code in their own mobile devices. For many such clients, it is critical to their success that they can charge license fees for their products and keep their code secret to protect it from competitors. Google understood this, which is why it made Android available under the Apache Software License, a license that was much more business-friendly than the GPLv2.

But Prof. Nimmer’s article raised questions about what Google had actually done, so I began to look at the Android code. What I found really surprised me: Google took a novel and quite aggressive approach to developing a key component of Android — the Bionic Library. That library, a type of C Library, is used by all application developers who need to access the core functions of the Linux operating system. Google essentially copied hundreds of files of Linux code that were never meant to be used as is by application developers, “cleaned” those files using a non-standard and questionable technical process, and then declared that the code was no longer subject to the GPLv2, so that developers could use it without becoming subject to copyleft effect that would normally apply to GPLv2-licensed code taken from the Linux kernel.

Why does it matter?

My full analysis of the legal issues can be found here, but in short, I have serious doubts that Google’s approach to the Bionic Library works under U.S. copyright law. At a minimum, Google has taken a significant gamble. While that may be fine for Google, because it knows about and understands the risks, many Android developers and device manufacturers are taking that same risk unknowingly. If Google is wrong, the repercussions are significant for the Android ecosystem: the manufacturers and developers working with Android would be incorporating GPLv2-licensed code into applications and components and taking on the copyleft obligations of that license.

What is potentially even more interesting is what happens if Google is right. If that is the case, Google has found a way to take Linux away from the open source community and privatize it. Perhaps the community believes it can rely on Google to “do no evil” with that kind of power, but can it rely on others to be so magnanimous?

This article provides information, not legal advice. The views expressed are my own individual views and should not be attributed to any clients.

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Apple iPad 2 hands-on: Predictable, awesome (CNet.com)

Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

From Donald Bell at CNet.com :

What does the world’s most successful tablet computer
do for an encore? More of the same.

The second-generation iPad from Apple is thinner, faster, lighter, and
whiter, but not a radical departure from the original. Pricing is also holding
steady, starting at $499 for a 16GB Wi-Fi-only model, up to 64GB with 3G
(provided by AT&T or Verizon without contract) priced at $829.

You can’t blame Apple for going easy on new features. Apple’s original recipe
for the iPad single-handedly created and captured the demand for tablets last
year. By any measure, it is not a product in need of fixing. It has the market
share, it has the developers, and it has the momentum.

Apple also just makes damn fine products. Having had a few minutes with the
iPad 2, I can say that it is every bit as stunning as the original. The first
thing that struck me was the iPad’s weight loss. It’s still not Kindle thin, but
the lighter design should make the e-book crowd happier and prove to be a
distinct advantage over bulkier competitors, including the recent Motorola
Xoom
.

The second thing that registered with me is the feel of the device. Apple
still uses anodized aluminum on the back, which is cool to the touch and
generally resists smudges. The back now flattens out at the middle, allowing it
to better stay put when placed on a table. In spite of the iPad’s thickness
decreasing by a third, it seemed no more fragile than the original design. In
fact, with its lighter weight, it feels less susceptible to being dropped.

I also tried out Apple’s new magnetic Smart Cover. It’s cute and it works as
advertised. From a case perspective, though, it’s a G-string in a world of
coveralls. The tough part of selling these will be convincing customers that the
back of the iPad is resilient enough to resist normal wear and tear.

Of course, the banner feature for the iPad 2 is the addition of two cameras,
which can be used for recording video or stills. The camera on the back is
located in the upper-right corner, recessed onto the tapered edge to avoid
scratching. It looks just like the lens on the iPhone 4
and is similarly blessed with 720p video capture. There’s no camera flash,
and the sensor is not identical to the iPhone’s, since its still-shot
capabilities are essentially video stills (similar to the fourth-gen iPod
Touch). That said, having tested the cameras on more than a few competing
tablets over the past year, I can’t stress how ridiculous you feel shooting
pictures with a tablet in public. Talk about overkill.

[ Continued . . . ].

Read more: http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-31747_7-20038436-243.html#ixzz1FW6xD900

Tablet Buying Guide from CNet.com

Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

As manufacturers rush to capitalize on the attention given to the Apple iPad, there seems to be a new tablet announced every week. And though we can’t keep track of every slate thrown into the wild, if you’re curious to know what your options are, we’ve compiled a general overview of the tablet landscape.

iPad

In the world of tablets, the iPad reigns as king. The product has its detractors, sure, but you can’t dispute the millions of iPads consumers have purchased and the startling rate of adoption–selling more than a million within the first month of release.

The iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch all run a common operating system called iOS, lending a degree of familiarity across Apple‘s most popular products. The iPad’s ease of use, along with its impressive selection of apps, games, and media, are generally considered its most prized attributes. [ . . . ]

Click Here for the Whole CNet.com Buying Guide

Read CNET‘s full review of the Apple iPad.

ABA Releases Results of Legal Technology Survey

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By Jason Beahm (Findlaw.com)  on October  6, 2010  5:57 AM|

A new report demonstrates that attorneys are increasingly making use of technology. According to the 2010 American Bar Association Legal Technology Survey Report, attorneys are increasingly using Web 2.0 and other technologies in their practice. Attorney’s use of social networking and smart phones both grew by double-digit percentages.

The ABA survey is a project of the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center, which provides the legal community with news and information on technology and its use by attorneys. The Legal Technology Resource Center writes about technology and provides continuing legal education on practice management through the use of improved technology. The survey provides over 500 pages of detailed statistics and trend analysis on the use of technology in the practice of law. Over 5,000 ABA members were surveyed as part of the project. The Legal Technology Survey Report comes in six volumes, Technology Basics, Law Office Technology, Litigation and Courtroom Technology, Web and Communication Technology, Online Research, and Mobile Lawyers.

The report is worth taking the time to read at your leisure. In the meantime, here are a few highlights:

  • 71 percent of attorneys are using smart phones in the courtroom, up from 60 percent in the 2009 survey. 64 percent of respondents use smart phones in court to check for new e-mail, 60 percent send e-mail and 46 percent perform calendaring functions.
  • 56 percent of those surveyed maintain an online presence on a site like Facebook or LinkedIn, up from 43 percent in 2009 and 15 percent in 2008.
  • 10 percent of those surveyed have landed a client through the use of online communities or social networks.
  • 76 percent of respondents use smart phones, up from 64 percent in 2009.
  • The most popular brands of smart phones among attorneys were BlackBerry (66%), iPhone (20%) and Palm (9%).
  • 14 percent of respondents have a virtual law practice.

The Argument for Android (From CNet.com’s Jeff Pugh)

Google Android

Image by Scarygami via Flickr

Jeff Pugh, CNet.com

I admit the iPhone is a great looking device and has its advantages. The sleek, sexy curves and bright retina display are like shiny lures that attract fish. Android phones, depending on which one you have, vary in size, shape and weight. One Android phone isn’t like the others. Maybe that is what makes this a fun and often-changing debate.

Much to the chagrin of my wife, I spend a lot of time on my phone. Judging from my data plan usage, I’m labeled a power user. But to me, aside from every bell and whistle associated with mobile devices, my most important feature to consider in connectivity. Maybe this debate boils down to which network or carrier you choose and not which phone is absolutely best. Android phones are on every network whereas the iPhone is only on AT&T and now Verizon.

Click here for the rest of the article.

15 Mobile Apps to Watch Out For

 

PCWorld 15 Apps Show

This is a very basic and brief introduction to upcoming apps, including, Skype for iPhone video-calling, Facebook for iPad, mobile payment platforms for billing, Pandora, Norton mobile, and more Google development.

What Tech to Expect from 2011

PCWorld Screenshot

Well, here is PC World‘s view of what we can expect from 2011. Most of it will likely be an expansion of the tech we have seen come out over the last 2-3 years. Refinements and better user interfaces seem to be the call of the day. Nothing too exciting, but certainly worth a look if you are shopping and deciding whether or not to hold off any particular product.

Windows 8, a white iPhone, new tablets, new apps, and a variety of Android phones are discussed in the PC World 2011 tech guide.  Of the 32 items mentioned, the Notion Ink Adam looks interesting from a design perspective and Google’s Chrome OS are what I am looking forward to reviewing and telling you about along with all of the other tools made available to us in the legal field.

You might also want to check out the Consumer Electronics Show 2011 preview as well.  Just click below.

PC World CES Pic