Google has announced plans to acquire Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion. The deal is expected to close by the end of the year or early 2012, and it would signal a major transition from Google. Right now the company is primarily known for software, while Motorola is a hardware maker. The two companies have been working together for years though — every Motorola smartphone and tablet since 2008 has run Google’s Android operating system.
While this means that we may finally be able to start referring to future products as “Google Phones,” the company plans to continue operating Motorola as a separate business — and to keep the Android platform open. That means we probably won’t see Samsung, HTC, and other big-name device makers pull out of the Android ecosystem right away… although it should be interesting to see how they react to news that the maker of the software they license will now be responsible for competing hardware.
Long story short, it’s hard to put out an operating system like Android or a phone like a Motorola Droid without using technology that’s covered by a patent one of your competitors holds. But if you have enough patents of your own, the chances are pretty good that those same competitors are releasing devices that infringe on your intellectual property. So tech companies are buying up patents left and right to use defensively in a “if you don’t sue us, we won’t sue you” fashion.
Microsoft and Apple have been going after companies including Motorola and Samsung recently for patent violations, and this move gives Google more strength in the patent arms race. So while it’s possible that Google’s acquisition could cause HTC, Samsung, Acer, and other phone makers to feel a bit queasy about releasing future Android products, it’s also possible that Google really doesn’t want to compete with those companies so much as use Motorola’s patent portfolio to discourage lawsuits and therefore maker it easier (and cheaper) for competitors to continue licensing Android software.
In fact, executives at HTC, Sony, and LG have already weighed in and voiced their support for Google’s move to defend “Android and its partners.” We’ll see if they’re singing the same tune a year from now.
That said, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what kind of phones and tablets Motorola releases in 2012 — assuming the deal gains approval from antitrust regulators.