While announcing his company's decision to buy Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion today, Google CEO Larry Page said that the deal would help fight off patent suits against Android vendors and would "increase competition by strengthening Google's patent portfolio." Google's Motorola announcement came less than two weeks after the company publicly lashed out at Microsoft, Apple and Oracle for allegedly waging "a hostile, organized campaign against Android ... waged through bogus patents."
Both Apple and Microsoft have been very aggressive in recent years in pressing patent claims against vendors who sell devices based on Google's Android operating system, which has been ostensibly free to use for device makers since its debut in 2007. The most recent big development in the Android patent saga came last month when a judge at the International Trade Commission ruled that HTC's Android-based smartphones had key features that infringed upon two Apple patents. If the ruling is made final later this year, it means that HTC could be barred from importing its Android phones into the U.S. Microsoft has also successfully sued some Android manufacturers such as HTC and is generating an estimated $5 in extra revenue every time HTC ships an Android-based device, according to a report by Citi analyst Walter Pritchard.
Google Chairman Eric Schmidt signaled that Google would step up its game to more aggressively defend Android manufacturers from patent suits last month when he pledged that Google would "make sure" that HTC didn't lose its appeal of the ITC's initial verdict. However, the Motorola buy now puts Google directly in the center of the Android patent wars as it gives the company a major incentive to defend its turf as an Android device manufacturer. What's more, Google's leap into the patent fray will likely benefit other Android vendors since Google is still pledging solidarity with all its partners in the Android device-making coalition that Google CEO Larry Page said had contributed to making Android a success.
"This acquisition will not change our commitment to run Android as an open platform," Page emphasized today. "Motorola will remain a licensee of Android and Android will remain open. We will run Motorola as a separate business. Many hardware partners have contributed to Android's success and we look forward to continuing to work with all of them to deliver outstanding user experiences."
This should come as a relief to other high-profile Android vendors because Motorola apparently has such an extensive patent portfolio that it could make life very difficult for its fellow Android vendors if it ever chose to do so. Trip Chowdry, an analyst for Global Equities, noted earlier this year that Motorola had a strong enough mobile patent portfolio to launch a "full attack" against rival HTC if it wanted to. And as software patent expert Florian Mueller wrote on his blog yesterday, Motorola has so far dodged Google's attempts to forge a non-aggression pact among Android vendors when it comes to patent suits. Mueller also said that he didn't believe Motorola would be very willing to play nice with its competitors for the good of the Android market as a whole.
"Unfortunately, I don't believe that Motorola will look at the broader interest of Android as it decides on how to leverage its patents for its own purposes," said Mueller. "Motorola isn't going to shut Android down, and it actually can't. ... Motorola would just try to create a relative cost advantage by taxing the competition."
Motorola has been one of the most high-profile device manufactures to champion Android since its inception. The company helped put Android on the map for many U.S. users when it launched the popular Motorola Droid smartphone on the Verizon network in late 2009. Android is currently the most popular smartphone operating system in the world, as research firm Canalys estimated that it accounted for nearly half of all smartphones shipped in the second quarter of 2011.