Apple v. Google: Mobile ads, Patent protection, location looks grim

Blink and you may have missed it, but one recent change in Apple’s deal with developers was to begin rejecting apps which used location-based data solely for serving up ads – now it looks like a Google-owned patent on such uses may be behind the move.

Apple last month told developers, “If you build your application with features based on a user’s location, make sure these features provide beneficial information. If your app uses location-based information primarily to enable mobile advertisers to deliver targeted ads based on a user’s location, your app will be returned to you by the App Store Review Team for modification before it can be posted to the App Store.”

We know things between Apple and Google are heating up – you only need to glance across at the HTC lawsuit to get a feeling for the future.

(We do see some already comparing Apple’s situation with that it faced all those years ago when involved in battle with Microsoft and HP, but we think that’s just a horror story for Mac-fixated history buffs.)

One weapon Google has is this recently-granted patent on the use of location in mobile advertising. This patent could be a huge blow for everyone involved in mobile marketing solutions, and the granting of the patent could have significant impact on every other player in the space. In this one, Google’s patent transforms it into the Microsoft of the day.

Google’s patent covers:

  • Using location as a factor to decide whether an ad should be served or not (targeting and relevancy)
  • Tracking the performance of an ad using location (metrics and analytics)
  • Using location to determine what kind of content should be included in an ad (custom landing pages, banners, etc.)
  • Allowing advertisers to enter their own location data for better ad targeting (advertising platforms)

“So if even part of the reason an ad publisher serves a particular ad to a consumer is because of that users location, they have now infringed Googles patent. Part of the patent covers just LOOKING at location information – even if you don’t use that information, Google has patented “accepting geolocation information associated with the requested”, one report observes.

The conclusion here is that how Google chooses to exercise its patent could be what affects development of these mobile technologies. However, as every old fool reporter knows, a company must defend its patent or it can lose it, so Google will inevitably have to execute certain legal cases to defend the patent it has.

What it will boil down to is if the patent remains in Google’s hands uncontested, as at present it seems to us to give the company rather too much power over the still-nascent market for mobile advertising.

That’s bad for business, bad for Apple and, one day after the initial Android gold rush, bad for competition and (ultimately) bad for Google…

And just the tiniest bit evil, in my opinion…

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