Google gobbles up Motorola for $12.5 billion

Search giant looks to make a hardware and patent land grab in the smartphone sphere
Darren Allan
Darren Allan -

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In a move that has surprised, well, pretty much everyone save for the top brass at the search giant, Google has announced that it intends to purchase Motorola Mobility.

The deal for the mobile manufacturing arm of Motorola has been inked for $12.5 billion, although has to be approved by the relevant US and European authorities before it will go through.

Although the current line of thinking from analysts is that the acquisition isn’t likely to be blocked by the Federal Trade Commission.

Motorola will apparently be run as a standalone company, and won’t be absorbed into the ever-growing Google empire. So, what exactly does Google want with Motorola? The question is a thorny one, throwing up a number of different theories and further questions.

Patents certainly appear to be a key issue. Android has come under fire lately with Google’s Chief Legal Officer accusing the likes of Apple and Microsoft of banding together to acquire old patents to use to halt the meteoric rise of the robot-themed OS.

The acquisition of Motorola will net Google over 17,000 patents to add to its own armoury when it comes to wars of legal words. The fact that these patents are starting to be seen as so valuable is certainly part of the reason Google forked out over 50% more than the face value of Motorola Mobility with its offer.

While companies which have built up successful handsets on Android lately, such as Samsung and HTC, will doubtless be breathing a sigh of relief at the OS being better defended in the courts, there will also be questions raised for them.

Will Motorola, with its new insider status, be given priority for updates and new versions of Android? It seems only natural Google will want to push Motorola’s handset shifting capabilities up a gear.

Some think that this situation could work out nicely for Microsoft, given that these manufacturers could potentially need to consider options away from Google and Android. And there aren’t many other directions to look in – but Microsoft doesn’t produce its own Windows Phone 7 handsets.

Although MS does, of course, have a massive billion dollar deal with Nokia in the works, with multiple phones set to begin emerging this autumn.

Perhaps the company sweating the most, now, is Apple. Google lining up with the smartphone hardware to couple up with the Android software, along with a ton of fresh patent ammunition is likely to cause more than a few raised eyebrows in the Cupertino boardroom.

Google, however, insists that Android will remain an open platform. Larry Page, CEO, wrote: “This acquisition will not change our commitment to run Android as an open platform. Motorola will remain a licensee of Android and Android will remain open.”

And Apple is probably going to look at acquiring yet more patents.

Once upon a time, technology was all about innovation and adding new features to your smartphone that the competition didn’t have, or hadn’t thought of.

Unfortunately, increasingly the reality seems to be a matter of who has the best legal team and has splashed out the most money on a vast armoury of patents.

When lawyers outrank inventors in big tech, something isn’t quite right.

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