Why is Fujifilm Suing Google?

Short version: Fujifilm has sued Motorola Mobility (owned by Google) for Android's infringement of four patents.

Longer version: What?

Okay, real longer version: one of the key claims here is that Fujifilm owns a patent that covers the notion that a phone can communicate with other devices on a signal other than the telephone network itself (which intersects with my Communicating, Programmable, Modular camera notion, one that I've been writing about for years and proselytizing previous to that). For example, WiFi communication to a computer (patent issued in 2005). Other claims are these: that Fujifilm patented the conversion of color images to monochrome in the year 2000; a programming method that involves face detection (2008); and using a reduced data set for an "electronic viewfinder" (1998).

Fujifilm seems to be using broad stroke definitions in their complaint, rather than very specific assertions. In almost every claim I can think of pre-existing work that seems to invalidate the "big picture" aspect of Fujifilm's claims. The "reduced data set as viewfinder" claim also seems obvious given that everyone was doing it. But what really has me scratching my head is "why Google?" I can't imagine that Fujifilm has cross-licensing on these patents with every other phone and camera maker. It's also not common for Japanese companies to file suit like Fujifilm has here.

I can think of only two reasons why Fujifilm is pursing this. One is that Fujifilm thinks they can win (partly because Google's Android patent strategy seems to have been: "buy Motorola" after the fact, so if they can crack the shell at Motorola, the entire fruit is exposed for plucking). At which point they'd hold the world hostage on their patents and collect licensing fees from everyone.

The other is that Fujifilm wants to stall (or at least get licensing from) the inroads that smartphone cameras are making on compact cameras. That would be exactly the wrong strategy, in my opinion. Patent pursuit is a friction that slows down innovation. The low-end camera market is already stalled and in decline. The only way you profit long term in that market is to totally disrupt it. Smartphones have already disrupted it in one sense, but cameras like the Sony RX-100 have the potential to disrupt it in another key sense. Indeed, that's the proper strategy if you want to live in that market, as Fujifilm apparently still does: disrupt your own products.

So how does this apply to mirrorless cameras? There, Fujifilm has done the right thing, though not with enough strong execution yet. Fujifilm's X-Pro1 is basically a Back to the Future type approach, using modern technology to implement retro-type gear. It's disruptive in that it appeals to those most interested in high camera performance, as they grew up with rangefinder-type cameras and are starting to balk at the big, modern DSLR.

In compact cameras, Fujifilm's products (other than perhaps the X10) are all me-too. Rather than take a risk and try to reinvent imaging from bottom to top, Fujifilm has opted to do a modest re-invention in one niche, and then try to hold the dike by lawsuit in the rest. It won't work. It won't help their bottom line and it's a distraction they don't need.

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