Does Android Have a Target on its Back?

Android (s goog) is the hot smartphone platform currently, and that means the competition has it squarely in its sights. Apple (s aapl) fired the first salvo with its patent infringement claims against HTC. HTC is the largest maker of Android phones, so the suit is a shot across the bow of Android. Then we had HTC sign a deal with Microsoft (s msft) that gives the handset maker protection over potential infringement of Redmond’s intellectual property (IP) for all Android handsets sold. No matter what you think about Apple’s claims, the HTC deal with Microsoft may have the biggest long-term impact on Android.

Android is hanging in the breeze a bit due to Google’s lack of a mobile IP portfolio. The company is new to the smartphone game, so it lacks years of patents to cover its back like most of the competition. No matter which side of the fence you are on in regards to IP protection actions, having its own IP would at least give Google a fallback position against claims, current and future.

It’s hard to predict what the outcome in the Apple/ HTC case will be, but the Microsoft deal HTC signed may have a bigger affect on Android than the Apple situation. HTC is the largest maker of Android phones, and by signing the deal with Microsoft it has basically admitted that Android may indeed infringe on Redmond’s technology. HTC will pay a royalty to Microsoft on every Android phone it sells, so it’s not likely the protection deal was signed “just in case.”

Now that HTC has taken this position with Microsoft, it may behoove other Android phone makers to do the same. Motorola (s mot) has emerged big in the Android space, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was in conversation with Microsoft about doing a deal similar to the HTC agreement. No matter how this all shakes out, there is a potential disruption in the growth Android has beenĀ achievingĀ since its launch. It is worth keeping an eye on this whole Android/ IP mess, and for those wanting a closer look at the situation check out my analysis (subscription required).