And Today’s Bully Act is Brought to You by HTC
Ok, the image chosen for this article might be a tad misleading, but it does try to convey a rather important point. HTC is a company that has always worked closely with the underground/hacker/modder/developer community—or at the very least, they have not done a whole lot to prevent us from doing what we like. It has been this way ever since the days of Windows Mobile. They have pretty much kept their distance and have tried to tip toe around the many activities that take place on XDA and similar sites. However, this has not always been the case and it seems that the sleeping lion may finally be awakening, partly due to desperation.
Many, many, many moons ago, back when Android was still in proverbial diapers, we witnessed something that was the harbinger of what could be constituted as bullying to the nth degree. Many of you may have heard about a young software company by the name of LevelUp Studio. In case you do not know them by name, you may have heard of one of their most famous creations in the Android world: Beautiful Widgets. The widgets offer a wide variety of themed clocks, weather apps, and several other widgets to help you make your Android device look and feel the way you want it to be. Without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most iconic looks for an Android device is none other than HTC Sense. The folks at LevelUp figured that since not all devices out there were capable of running the Sense framework, LevelUp would give users the ability to enjoy Sense-like features such as an animated flip clock, weather, and so on. They then created a Sense theme. Not long after the theme was released in the Android Market, HTC sent the company a Cease and Desist letter due to this theme being “too close” to the aforementioned Sense elements. The company had little option, so they swiftly complied and took down the offending material. This episode came and went just like that, and not too many people paid too much attention.
Fast forward through the last 5 years and during that time, everything that could possibly have happened in the Android world has happened, including but not limited to HTC nearly getting crippled by Apple’s import bans. Now, HTC has decided to become the new bully in the Android community. You may recall a recent article here on the XDA Portal about DO Launcher by XDA Recognized Developer doga.ozkaraca. The article discussed the app but part of it also mentioned the following:
Then, HTC found out about the developer’s work and decided to send a DMCA letter to take the launcher out of the Play Store.
Now, does this remind you of something? After reading that bit, I decided to go into the thread to read a bit more about the OP’s story. Granted, there are always two sides to every coin and HTC does have a right to protect their work. However, this leads to a much larger question, particularly that of patents: Where are the limits for IP protection drawn? Why can’t someone grab an existing concept and, by the aide of his/her own ingenuity, make it better? Case in point, DO Launcher (at least the original alpha and betas) did mimic Sense 5 and even had “BlinkFeed” as a feature. But that was not a final product, which means that HTC jumped the gun by protecting their IP even before the software was finalized. What if that was simply the project base? What if that was simply a proof-of-concept to make a new, better launcher for all of the Android community? The code from Sense was not stolen by any means (after all, Sense is not exactly open to everyone), which means that the launcher was made from scratch. Artwork, icons, images, etc. might be the only debatable point. But even still, the previous point applies: What if this was not final? Once you add the ability to theme, the “artwork” part flies right out of the window.
A tongue-in-cheek piece here on the Portal talked about patents and how younger devs should try and stay safe. This is all nice and neat, but why a hobbyist who is simply sharing the fruits of his enjoyment need to worry about big, multinational corporation breathing down his neck and threatening with a massive lawsuit? For companies that vow to help developers and help ensure that innovation does continue, they sure make a hell of an effort to do the exact opposite. We see this more often than not coming from HTC, which now brings us back in full circle to the beginning of the article. Is HTC using their corporate status to become the new Apple? This is analogous to the kid who gets bullied in school and then becomes a bully later in life. By the time of their first volley of patent lawsuits, Apple targeted a much younger and smaller HTC. The latter seems to have undertaken that role and is now targeting small time developers to ensure that their self esteem and manhood remain.
Patent defense between companies is one thing. Let them sue themselves until the cows come home. It is a well known fact that the media circus they generate is often done in part to generate publicity. Who cares if another company made a device in the shape of a rectangle? Besides, they do have the financial means and human resources to withstand said media circus for long periods of time. The problem we face here at XDA is that the company in question seems to be shifting its attention from the larger fish to the new kids at school, effectively making HTC the new bully in dev-town. This yields a similar amount of media attention, far less cost in the courtrooms, far less risk, and best of all, they get to look like the “poor victim that can do no wrong.” Give me a break, HTC. Go back to the drawing board, use your resources for innovation, and in the immortal words of Chris Crocker, LEAVE
BRITNEYTHE DEVS ALONE!