Good Claims Sovereignty Over Mobile Security

Nov 16, 2012 (05:11 AM EST)

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Good Technology's bombshell announcement Wednesday that it is suing competitors MobileIron and AirWatch for patent infringement probably has everyone in the mobile security and management business calling their lawyers. If nothing else, the move is "good" for intellectual property attorneys.

I've been talking to people in the business and the consensus is that Good could really cause a great deal of disorder, depending on what it's up to. Of course it is seeking injunctions against the sale of the allegedly infringing products, but it's basically just a shakedown for licensing fees. A rich ecosystem of mobile security competitors is probably just fine with Good as long as all those competitors are paying Good's cut.

A little bit of history might be in order here: Many might think that the mobile industry sprang from Steve Jobs' mind in 2007 with the release of the iPhone, but much of the basic technology was in use long before and Good's antecedents were there. Visto Corporation, the main corporate ancestor of Good Technology, was writing software for corporate mobile users back in the mid-90's. Back then "mobile" meant using a notebook computer on the road, and Visto's software was browser-based.

Both Good Technology and Visto, which combined to form Good Technology in 2009, might have been around a long time. But the MDM industry was created by Apple when it cloned RIM's BlackBerry Enterprise Server APIs to form the iOS MDM APIs. These are the APIs that companies like AirWatch and MobileIron and probably 100 others around the world implement. They try to add their own features, but those APIs are the core because that's what Apple supports, and other companies generally have to take what Apple gives. For this reason, incidentally, there's no real difference between MDM software packages, at least where iOS is concerned.

Then there's Apple. I bet you all almost forgot about it and what would seem to be its central role in this litigation. In its press releases Good notes that it has intellectual property licensing agreements with RIM, Microsoft and others, but no mention of Apple. I asked Good and a rep said "... this lawsuit in no way impacts our relationship with Apple or any agreements we have with them. It's only about [MobileIron] and [AirWatch]."

So either Good has secret IP agreements with Apple, or it is negotiating with Apple, or there's some other good reason not to sue Apple. At least not yet. Because surely if these other companies infringe, so does Apple. Even worse, Apple has been the main facilitator of the infringers against whom Good is now making its move.

Surely next on Good's list are Samsung and the others implementing similar functionality on Android devices. Samsung's SAFE initiative is an attempt to standardize MDM and other security access to Android devices because Google has declined to do so after all these years.

And suddenly we are presented with a possible reason why Google has declined to get involved with standardizing device security in Android. Maybe it was spooked by Good's 75 patents.

This is, in many ways, a classic story in the software patent genre. Good's patents, as the company brags, cover basic methods of mobile security management. It might be impossible to operate in the market without using these techniques. I believe in intellectual property rights and I like the idea of the patent system in general, but these days, and especially with software, the way the system works ends up seeming unreasonable.