Evidence of paid anti-Google bias in patent "news" coverage is troubling

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Evidence of paid anti-Google bias in patent
We know that when it comes to mobile technology, individuals developer certain preferences...some become full-blown fans of one company or another (or their platform). Writers in the tech media surely have their individual preferences as well, but we are supposed to do our best to avoid those, critically examining sources to try and cipher out bias before it gets reported. That's what makes recent evidence of paid bias so troubling.

Followers of the ongoing mobile patent wars have almost certainly heard the name “Florian Mueller”. Mr. Mueller, who describes himself as an “intellectual property activist-turned-analyst” (but is not a lawyer) maintains the popular mobile patent blog FOSS Patents. In the last year FOSS Patents has become possibly the most-visited website covering mobile patents, often providing leading coverage of the Oracle v. Google Android lawsuit, and the many patent tussles between various Android OEMs and Apple and/or Microsoft.

In the fast-paced tech industry the mobile patent wars are often big news, and the combination of high visibility and frequent updating has lead to a great many news stories being sourced directly from Mr. Mueller’s blog. His inside track on German court rulings is surely a boon to reporters, but parroting so many news stories stem from a single source it introduces the possibility of pervasive, systemic bias in news coverage. It turns out that this very issue has been raised about Mr. Mueller’s coverage more than once, as his writing consistently opposes Android's legal interests, sometimes by directly contradicting the observations of independent IP lawyers and legal news sites.

Evidence of paid anti-Google bias in patent "news" coverage is troubling
Yesterday it was revealed that Oracle has hired Mr. Mueller to “work together for the long haul” on “competition related issues,” of which FRAND law was the only provided example.  Mueller claims this is a “very recent” relationship, but by his own admission he and Oracle have been discussing his employment for a long time, stating, “When Oracle and I started talking about areas in which I could provide analysis, we thought that the Google litigation was going to be over by the time we would work together”… in other words, he has only recently come to be paid by Oracle, but the two of them have been planning his employment for quite some time.

This the second time in six months that Mueller has admitted to taking money from a client he was also providing positive reporting on – in October questions were raised about his impartiality when it was announced that Microsoft was paying him to do a study on FRAND law…the very same topic Mr. Mueller frequently writes about - and nearly always sides with Microsoft on. In fact, an examination of what Microsoft paid him to study reads like a “checklist” for most of Mr. Mueller’s writings about Android OEMs and Microsoft (and/or Apple) over the last six months. Here is the list:

  • the injunctive and/or monetary relief requested based on the alleged infringement of FRAND standard patents,
  • indications of the demands patent holders made in pre-lawsuit negotiations,
  • attempts to leverage such patents in order to receive licenses to unencumbered patents by insisting on a cross-license or by demanding unreasonably high royalty rates for a one-way license,
  • the time it takes until patent holders make an offer of FRAND terms when requested,
  • court rulings and reasonings (including early-stage decisions, for example, on motions to dismiss), and
  • antitrust complaints and investigations triggered by suspicions of FRAND abuse.

To be fair to Mr. Mueller, he has revealed these conflicts of interest himself, and he maintains that they do not impact his opinion or what he writes on his blog. We don't want to impugn his word, so we'll just note that a great many people manage to agree with those who pay their bills, without purposely introducing bias. Thus it’s not Mr. Mueller’s intent that should be questioned, but the results.

Those results speak for themselves; FOSS Patents was one of the main sources last year trumpeting Oracle's ability to win billions of dollars in damages, a claim Groklaw, an independent legal news website, has consistently taken issue with. And when it was shown that those numbers were in fact massively wrong, FOSS Patents neatly pivoted the discussion away from damages to the issue of whether Oracle could get an injunction. As patent after patent was invalidated by the USPTO, Mueller's posts minimized the presumed impact on the case, right up until the patent part of Oracle v. Google was largely surrendered in favor of Oracle's controversial copyright claims.

Note that FOSS Patent's does report bad news for Oracle and Microsoft too, it's just that good news tends to be played up when it benefits Microsoft and Oracle, and it tends to be downplayed when it benefits Google or one of the Android handset manufacturers.

Former trial lawyer Jeff Roberts reached a similar conclusion when it was revealed that Mr. Mueller was being paid by Microsoft in October, writing “The problem lies not with Mueller’s analysis — but with his impartiality. The (Google) engineer is right when he says that Mueller has the knives out for Google. Even a casual reader of the FOSS blog can easily discern that Mueller is quick to amplify any legal setback for Google’s Android or its affiliates.

Given the evidence it seems clear that however noble Mr. Mueller’s intent, his analyses are often viewed as partisan by independent legal professionals. Whether that partisanship is due to who pays him, or whether his clients decide to hire him because they are already in agreement doesn't really matter in the end. In fact, harping on the intrigue and wringing our hands over Mr. Mueller's intent misses the big picture, which is how this illustrates a larger problem with how the tech media covers patent law in general.

Evidence of paid anti-Google bias in patent "news" coverage is troubling
In the news business time is literally money – no one wants to read last week’s news today. Speed brings with it the risk of reporting false or misleading news, but in general things work out reasonably well. Trusted sources are used over questionable ones, and multiple sources are often available to confirm (or deny) questionable claims; when we run into competing claims at PA, like how many iPads have been sold, we try to sort out the good claims from the bad. But with the mobile patent wars we run into a situation where the news is complex, and not many reporters have a legal background; as a result many news sites got in the habit of simply repeating what is written on single site, treating an analyst's blog as if it were Bloomberg or Reuters.

In other words, it is troubling that the number one source behind mobile patent news is getting paid by the very firms his coverage seems slanted towards. But what’s really troubling about the situation is that the media as a whole has let a single source dominate headlines, even when there were competing (and better qualified) sources available. By following the quick and easy path to reporting on a complex subject, reporters set themselves up to be manipulated.

In the final analysis, it’s time for the tech media to step up and pay attention to source bias, and to take steps to broaden the number of sources that are used when reporting on legal disputes. The problem isn't so much with one person's opinion, it's when that opinion is widely (and uncritically) reported as the unvarnished truth.

sources: Groklaw 1,2,3; PaidContent; FOSS Patents 1,2

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39 Comments

1. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

I thought that Mueller's article yesterday was pretty biased, and this explains why. Nice article.

6. ardent1

Posts: 2000; Member since: Apr 16, 2011

"I thought that Mueller's article yesterday was pretty biased" And that is your opinion. Smart people understand opinions ARE NOT FACTS.

11. JGuinan007

Posts: 699; Member since: May 19, 2011

Wow Excellent article I thought this was one of yours Michael are you coaching Scott?

12. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

I can't take any credit. This was all Scott.

16. ZEUS.the.thunder.god unregistered

actually thats what i thought that its one of your articles. i wish PA had more writers like you.

33. iamcc

Posts: 1319; Member since: Oct 07, 2011

Ardent, relax bro. It's going to be okay...

37. ardent1

Posts: 2000; Member since: Apr 16, 2011

jawhol mein iamcc. Again, iamcc, that was another wonderful H. Himmler imitation, which is what you are good at.

17. theBankRobber

Posts: 682; Member since: Sep 22, 2011

Sorry dude I hit the thumbs down button by mistake, I agree with you.

21. ZEUS.the.thunder.god unregistered

its ok bro..

19. jroc74

Posts: 6023; Member since: Dec 30, 2010

I figured Mueller was biased a year or 2 ago. Especially when he didnt understand what an Android Nexus device really was or used for. He claimed Google was gonna start showing bias to Moto for Android phones...and kindly left out the fact that HTC and Samsung are seemingly being favored for Nexus devices. Moto might not even be on the radar for the next on too. I used to think he was pro Apple...but it seems he's just anti Android, Google.

29. anywherehome

Posts: 971; Member since: Dec 13, 2011

corruption is not a thing just of politicians (their stability = Democrats vs. Republicans = means no change = debts, corruption) but also between powerful companies, who are the source of political corruption pray for Google will not be taken down into the "great" sh*ts like Microsoft, Oracle, Sony, Apple, Facebook, ... did...... Just "Don't be evil" and please, dear Google, fight for us.....we cant significantly, we have no millions :)

38. ardent1

Posts: 2000; Member since: Apr 16, 2011

Michael H, I think your comment reflects the typical ignorance of people. Did you even bother to read the disclaimer: (A) The guy is an activist meaning he has an agenda (source: Florian Mueller is an award-winning intellectual property activist-turned-analyst with 25 years of software industry expertise) (B) The guy tells the world he is a hired gun (source: Florian advises clients on the patent wars surrounding mobile devices, and on their economic and technical implications.) (C) The guy tells the world he has special distribution channels (source: His consulting services are available directly (contact form, LinkedIn profile) as well as through two primary research firms (Gerson Lehrman Group, Coleman Research Group) serving the financial community. ) Part (C) is troubling since he is helping out the financial community like hedge funds for a fee. That is in plain English. In summary, anyone who thinks Mr. Mueller is a pious disinterested blogger, IMHO needs to get his head examined. The feedback to date means very few bothered to read and understand Mr. Mueller's conflicts. It's an open secret as to Mr. Mueller's position aka he's a hired gun.

39. anywherehome

Posts: 971; Member since: Dec 13, 2011

very suspicious, long long post in replay to very simple post.....so complex......hello Mr. Mueller or someone in charge ;-)

2. roscuthiii

Posts: 2383; Member since: Jul 18, 2010

Tsk tsk and tsk.

3. medicci37

Posts: 1361; Member since: Nov 19, 2011

I read his blog. & it's so obvious he his biased. I thought he was bribed by Apple & MS. But turns out it was Oracle & MS. What a piece of SHT !

4. mas11

Posts: 1034; Member since: Mar 30, 2012

Because God forbid a company that supports open development is successful

5. denney

Posts: 98; Member since: Oct 20, 2011

As soon as someone credits themselves as a "blogger", I stop taking anything they say seriously. I think it's a pretty good rule to live by.

7. ardent1

Posts: 2000; Member since: Apr 16, 2011

Scott H., as you pointed out, it is a blog site -- he like many others write blogs to make money. Image that.

25. Scott_H

Posts: 167; Member since: Oct 28, 2011

Funny thing is I very specifically go out of my way in the article to state that the problem isn't merely that Mueller has a conflict of interest (hey, everyone wants to make a living!) but that so much of the media uncritically used his writing as if it were a news source (like Reuters) rather than a paid analyst's blog.

30. TylerGrunter

Posts: 1544; Member since: Feb 16, 2012

Great article Scott! Good to know there are people like you writting in this site.

35. atheisticemetic

Posts: 377; Member since: Dec 18, 2011

heaven forbid that he took the time to read before responding Scott :) nice article!

36. ardent1

Posts: 2000; Member since: Apr 16, 2011

Scott_H: He advertises himself as an activist and by construction, activists have agenda(s) in that they are changing the status quo. "that so much of the media uncritically used his writing as if it were a news source " Perhaps that may be true for those with trailer park mentalities or low brow people. In his bio, the various disclaimers is in black and white. What I am saying Scott_H, your article is like exposing the biggest open secret and all the low brow people now are embarassed they didn't understand the said disclaimer. Here's the disclaimer so there is no confusion: "Florian advises clients on the patent wars surrounding mobile devices, and on their economic and technical implications. His consulting services are available directly (contact form, LinkedIn profile) as well as through two primary research firms (Gerson Lehrman Group, Coleman Research Group) serving the financial community. (In order to avoid conflicts of interest, Florian does not hold or initiate transactions in any technology stocks or derivatives thereof.)" He "advises clients" meaning he sells his services as a hired gun! He offers "consulting services" as well. Scott_H, please tell me you didn't read these disclaimers. Again, the burden is on the reader when said disclaimers have been expressedly stated. In summary, Scott_H your article is much ado about nothing.

8. ZEUS.the.thunder.god unregistered

this Mueller guy is a piece of sh*t. he is been writing garbage for google/android for quite some time now. and its true media is biased some times. we can see it in the case of apple where company gets all the positive coverage and even its above average products will be called magical, revolutionary etc. but media dont let go of a chance to bash android/google. the next thing we might hear is that this a$$**** is getting paid from apple too. btw very nice article Scott.

24. ZEUS.the.thunder.god unregistered

here is the link to an old article i found on fcc website. its full of bullsh*t praising apple. http://www.fcc.com/what-is-taking-the-apple-competitors-so-long-to-come-at-par-with-it.html

9. ron1niro

Posts: 54; Member since: Mar 28, 2012

We should say the same about phonearena and it's coverage of MS or Nokia related issues, you always seem like you are against these two and always try as much as possible to put in the word, "APPLE", i'm not the only one who has observed this.

13. ph00ny

Posts: 1978; Member since: May 26, 2011

I think the point he's making is that there might be a motive behind his bias

14. medicci37

Posts: 1361; Member since: Nov 19, 2011

Did MS & Nokia pay you to say that ? BTW Most of the articles I have read about MS & Nokia on PA were not negative. Sounds like you are the one who is biased.

22. denney

Posts: 98; Member since: Oct 20, 2011

Apple isn't cutting PA checks to express their opinions.

10. Devon

Posts: 11; Member since: Oct 07, 2011

At Last! Great job Scott! I have noticed news agencies were being lazy quoting Florian all the time and not making their own judgement. It was always doom for Google and clear waters for Microsoft, Oracle and even Apple in his articles. I have to admit I read his blog but just take in the facts while ignoring the pretty obvious partisanship.

15. stealthd unregistered

Funny, I see Verizon and Blackberry ads on phonearena, and yet I've never seen any disclosure on relevent articles. Also kind of funny that Miller posted on his blog last year about how much he liked the big screen on the Galaxy Note.

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