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Fight!

Oh, lordy. Things are getting tense out there in tech-world. Not so long ago, it seemed the big guns of the tech world had found ways to be friends: Google was helping Apple out with apps for the iPhone, while Microsoft made it easy for customers to replace Live Search with Google has their default search engine. Now, though, things have got a lot more competitive, with Microsoft launching Bing to compete with Google, and Google launching Android - along with a bunch of manufacturers - to compete with the iPhone. And things have got a lot more tense as a result. Apple is widely believed to be planning on ditching Google as the default Maps and Search provider on iOS just as soon as it has sexy alternatives in place, while Microsoft is so eager to beat Android in the mobile space it's virtually bought Nokia - and actually bought Skype - to make it happen.

Basically, no-one is friends any more. And this week, the bubbling tensions between all the big players burst into the open. Google's Chief Legal Officer, David Drummond, wrote a post on Google's blog today accusing Apple, Microsoft and some other companies of 'a hostile, organised campaign against Android... waged through bogus patents.'

Strong stuff. What's Drummond's argument? Essentially, that rivals - notably Apple and Microsoft - have decided the best way to combat Android's growing market share is simply to attack it with the patent laws. Apple is currently suing both HTC and Samsung over its Android pones, saying they infringe Apple's patents for the iPhone. Microsoft also holds a lot of smartphone-related patents, mostly ones they've bought, and following a successful suit against HTC Microsoft now gets $5 for every Android phone the Asian giant sells. It's believed to be seeking up to $15 per sale for related patents from Samsung.

But all this is normal stuff, really - why have patents if you don't enforce them? The really explosive stuff is Drummond's accusation that Apple and Microsoft have teamed up to buy patent portfolios to stop Google from getting its hands on them. And this is the part which seems somewhat problematic. Drummond says in his post the two participated in groups which bought the patent portfolios of fallen tech companies Novell and Nortel in order to prevent Google from getting them. But Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith hit back on Twitter, saying that in fact, Microsoft offered Google the chance to co-bid for the patents with them. Drummond then re-responded, saying that 'It's not surprising that Microsoft would want to divert attention by pushing a false 'gotcha!' while failing to address the substance of the issues we raised.' According to Drummond, the deal Microsoft proposed would have meant Google paying for the patents but still being unable to use them.

Or something. Look, we're not lawyers, and some of the detail of this is lost on even us. But one thing's for sure - we can't remember a time since the 'browser wars' of the 1990s when the relations between major tech companies were this poor. We'd love to say all this is good for consumers, but while cutthroat competition brings down prices, legal warfare rarely does.

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