In somewhat shocking news this week, Google announced that they would acquire Motorola Mobility. The company that bet it all on Android, making it the sole operating system on all of their smartphones, is now officially joining the Google family. There are many interpretations as to why Google and Motorola have agreed to this deal, but the primary motivation seems to be to protect and energize the Android operating system.
Motorola’s total commitment to Android in mobile devices is one of many reasons that there is a natural fit between our two companies. Together, we will create amazing user experiences that supercharge the entire Android ecosystem for the benefit of consumers, partners and developers everywhere.
Google says the acquisition will not affect their commitment to keep Android open. Motorola will basically remain an independent licensee of the Android OS. They highlight the fact that Google works with other hardware manufacturers like Samsung and HTC and seem to want to emphasize that this acquisition of Motorola won’t necessarily lock out or change the dynamic with these other manufacturers — so what is the main benefit of this deal?
It seems to be to defend the Android ecosystem against the recent patent attacks from competitors. Quoting Google again:
We recently explained how companies including Microsoft and Apple are banding together in anti-competitive patent attacks on Android. The U.S. Department of Justice had to intervene in the results of one recent patent auction to “protect competition and innovation in the open source software community” and it is currently looking into the results of the Nortel auction. Our acquisition of Motorola will increase competition by strengthening Google’s patent portfolio, which will enable us to better protect Android from anti-competitive threats from Microsoft, Apple and other companies.
It’s all about patent protection, it seems. By acquiring Motorola, Google gains access to a patent portfolio boasting 17,000 patents and with another 7,500 pending. This information came during the conference call with Motorola and Google shortly after the announcement. Others who are part of this patent war include Samsung at 37,000 mobile patents and LG with 31,000. Microsoft and Apple are gunning for Android and Google is moving to defend. Motorola, already under fire in the courts, may have been looking at settling or even selling their patent portfolio. Google, already short on patents, could not allow this to happen.
What Will This Mean for the Patent Wars?
What I find most interesting here is that Apple and Microsoft have not lifted a hand against Google themselves; they have only gone after Google’s Android licensees. Google has been very clear that they do not appreciate this activity. They have claimed outright that, because their competitors are not able to innovate on the same level as Android, they have chosen to attack via patents. By acquiring Motorola, Google puts itself squarely on the battlefield against the likes of Apple and Microsoft.
By stepping into the ring, Google has shaken things up and possibly raised morale for Android fans and Android hardware manufacturers. This is a risky situation that could fall either way; either Google will be victorious, bolstering the Android ecosystem and proving their support for Android, or they’ll lose and Android will take a major hit.
What About for Google and Motorola in General?
There are things here to consider beyond patents, though. Motorola just so happens to make mediocre but ubiquitous set-top boxes for TV and Google just so happens to have Google TV, which is in dire need of hardware. Also, while Google has said they will allow Motorola to remain independent, it’s unlikely they will have no influence at all. The Android OS is fragmented across manufacturers and carriers. Updates are often few and far between. It seems likely that Google might push updates to Motorola devices in an effort to get other manufacturers to follow suit.
This $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola by Google has a mind-boggling number of implications. It gives Google the opportunity to become a more vertical company, strengthens Android against the competition, and will either help unite Google’s partners in Android or cause in-fighting between the companies that have chosen Android. In any case, it will definitely be interesting to see how this plays out.