Google’s Motorola Deal is About Patents Not Innovation
By now you’ve heard that Google’s agreed to acquire Motorola Mobility for around $12.5 billion. Google says it plans to run Motorola Mobility as a separate business, and is committed to keeping Android an open platform for other licensees. Android licensees such as Samsung, Sony Ericsson, and HTC are lightly praising the deal.
As the patent wars really heat up between Apple, Google, and Microsoft, this is perhaps a very smart move by Google to hedge its bets even more. But Google and Motorola Mobility have very different cultures, so integration or even directing at a distance, will be very interesting.
This also places Google firmly in the smartphone hardware business, no longer just a dabbler with its Nexus program that will remain in place. It’s a dramatic shift in the Android landscape for other licensees who will now have to compete with Google, through Motorola Mobility for market share. Something that Nokia doesn’t have to do with Microsoft. Not just yet, that is.
But Google didn’t have a choice because Android is under siege and it’s all about the patents. Long term, I’d expect the smartphone brands supporting Android to shift their weight towards Windows Phone if they begin to wary of Motorola having one leg up on the race.
Expect to see Google push Google Search as the primary mobile search engine on Motorola devices, but it would be wise for them to allow Android licensees to offer other search solutions. But Android is clearly optimized for Google Search. The FTC is currently investigating Google to see if it’s restricting Android licensees from supporting other search solutions.
Back when I was in Boston, Skyhook Wireless went after Google claiming that it was using its weight to unfairly push Google Maps over Skyhook’s own solutions, granting faster access to Android OS revs to those device brands using Google Maps. Google’s also being sued by Oracle that claims that a third of Android APIs are derived from Java, which Oracle gained when it bought Sun Microsystems.
It seems like everyone is suing everyone. Microsoft went after Motorola and Barnes & Noble, and Apple’s attacked Samsung in Australia and in the EU to establish a patent war beachhead, blocking Samsung from selling its Galaxy phones.
This deal is clearly about 17,000 current patents and 7,500 applications sitting in Motorola Mobility’s coffers. It comes on the heels of Google SVP and Chief Legal Officer David Drummond’s public outcries about Apple and Microsoft “strangling” Android. Microsoft holds patents on Android and is currently extracting contractual royalties from HTC, while putting pressure on other device brands. It’s high stakes poker that’s effectively taxing others on Android until Windows Phone devices roll out later this year.
The loss of Nortel’s portfolio of 6,000 patents and applications to a coalition of Apple, EMC, Ericsson, Microsoft, RIM and Sony was also another shot across Google’s bow. Platform providers are clearly seeking to fight through litigation rather than via innovation. Although you could easily argue that there is less room for innovation outside the core Android stack, one reason why Nokia went with Windows Phone. I expect Motorola to drop MOTOBLUR.
In most of the Android smartphone concepts and initial marketing messages we’ve tested in the past year, scores were really low for uniqueness and believability. This is a clear sign that consumers aren’t seeing differentiation or innovation from any of the brands.
Google had no choice, and probably knew this action might alienate its Android licensees down the road. But just as Android becomes the dominant platform, it’s attacked by Microsoft and Apple, who take litigation to the next level.
For those who understand the technology business, IP is everything. Now if all three platforms could show some real innovation and differentiation instead of copying each other, consumers might be more interested.