Google Gains More Than a Patent Defense With Motorola Mobility Buyout

News Analysis: When Google stunned the mobile device world by agreeing to buy Motorola Mobility at a huge premium, the patent portfolio was clearly in play, but Google gets more than just intellectual property. It also gets a good phone company.

Google's $12.5 billion offer to buy Motorola Mobility was a huge coup for the Android developer. Not only was Motorola the company that brought Google into the big time with its Droid smartphone, it's also a key player in the lineup of Verizon Wireless LTE (Long-Term Evolution) 4G phones. Motorola also developed the first real competitor to Apple's iPad with its Xoom tablet.

But there's a lot more to Motorola than a few cool devices. Motorola essentially invented the cell phone business. In the days long before smart phones-and even long before the Gordon Gecko brick-like cell phone (which was a Motorola device)-the company made the first really successful mobile cell phones. Many of those strange curly antennas on the back windows of upscale cars back in the '80s were connected to Motorola mobile phones. But the company's history goes farther back than that, to the days of early police radios, to the first short-wave mobile phones.

The reason for this history lesson? It's simple. Motorola owns most, if not all, of the basic mobile phone patents. Motorola was making mobile phones before Apple computer existed. So when Google closes the sale on the Motorola deal, it gains a patent portfolio that is so basic that every company that sells a cell phone today must license its patents. This effectively shuts down Apple's lawsuits against Android if only because Apple can't afford to lose its licenses to use Motorola's intellectual property.

While this might not put Google in the catbird seat in the mobile phone industry, it at least allows Google to compete on an equal footing with Apple and other phone makers, and it gives the other makers of Android phones a significant level of assurance that they won't suddenly lose the right to use the Android operating system.

The acquisition of Motorola may also quell Apple's quest to own every mobile patent on the planet, with even the flimsiest of claims, if only because there's more to lose. But really, there's a lot more to this deal than just patents. This also puts Google into the position to make its own phones, sort of in the same way that Apple makes the iPhone.

But I suspect that this will be a different situation than the iPhone. With the Apple product, the company controls every aspect of the design, pricing and distribution. With Android, anybody can play.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...