Mozilla Says Boot to Gecko Won't Face Big Patent/Licensing Roadblocks

by Ostatic Staff - Feb. 28, 2012

With Mobile World Congress in full swing in Barcelona this week, many of us are still digesting the big news from Mozilla that--with the help of big partners--its open Boot to Gecko platform will become a competitor to Android and iOS on smartphones this year. Mozilla is in an alliance with Telefonica and Qualcomm to deliver very low cost phones to users worldwide, and could gain a lot of traction in Latin America, where Telefonica is a dominant force.

The partners are claiming that they can deliver very functional smartphones for a tenth the cost of an iPhone. As we noted yesterday, though, Mozilla and its partners have to be wary of patents and licensing issues, which, apparently, they are.

Mozilla only announced its open Boot to Gecko operating system last July, when officials claimed that it could leverage open standards to challenge the control of proprietary operating systems on smartphones. Since then, the company has moved steadily ahead with the platform. 

As PCWorld notes, Jonathan Nightingale, senior director of Firefox engineering for Mozilla, said this week that Boot to Gecko uses some Linux code but has no licensing obligations beyond using Linux and Gecko. Specifically, Nightingale noted that Boot to Gecko does not use components from Android at all. 

Why is that important? Mozilla's strategy, along with its partners, is to deliver very low cost smartphones, and the partners can't afford to get bogged down in patent and licensing issues, which run rampant in the smartphone space. 

Patents were at the heart of Google's move to acquire Motorola Mobility and its effort to have a big presence in the smartphone business. Microsoft currently collects heavy licensing fees from Android phone makers, based on mobile technology patents that it owns. Mozilla doesn't have a lot of experience with the hardware business and doesn't have a broad patent portfolio. 

For these reasons, Mozilla's success with its Boot to Gecko platform depends on keeping it truly, truly open and far from patent and licensing concerns. PC World also reports that Nightingale demonstrated a Boot to Gecko phone--a Samsung Galaxy S II:

"The phone had a dialer, SMS app, video player, photo viewer, browser and other apps. B2G also includes an accelerometer, camera and tilt sensors. Mozilla is at work on an NFC app."

Clearly, though cheap, these phones won't be underpowered. NFC stands for Near Field Communications, a technology that is at the heart of many strategies for making payments with mobile phones at point-of-sale locations. 

As news continues to arrive about Mozilla's smartphone strategy and Boot to Gecko, it seems like these initiatives may have bright futures.