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Are Motorola's patents enough to protect Android?

James Niccolai | Aug. 15, 2011
Google has offered a premium to buy Motorola Mobility, to help ward off legal attacks against Android.

If Google is targeted by another lawsuit, Motorola's patents will help it broker a settlement and secure a license for Android, Poltorak said. That license would cover Android device makers as well, under the "exhaustion doctrine," he said. "If Google obtains a license for the OS, then everyone else who uses that OS will be licensed as well."

If a company targets a Google partner instead, Google could transfer ownership of some the Motorola patents to that partner temporarily, so it can defend itself with them, Poltorak said.

Not everyone agreed that Motorola's patents will be an effective deterrent, however. Florian Mueller, author of the FOSS Patents blog, noted that Apple has already sued Motorola Mobility for patent infringement. Motorola's patents appear "too weak" to be a deterrent against lawsuits, he wrote in a blog post.

"This isn't going to be a protective shield for Android," Mueller said. "Motorola Mobility has already fired its best shots in its lawsuits against Apple and Microsoft, with little impact as it seems."

But Motorola fired the first shots in that battle, Poltorak noted. Motorola sued Apple in October for allegedly infringing 18 of its patents, and filed a complaint with the International Trade Commission. "Apple had no choice but to defend itself," Poltorak said.

Mueller argued that Motorola expected the lawsuit from Apple, and that its own lawsuit was a pre-emptive, defensive move. He sees Google's Motorola purchase as "buyer's desperation."

One thing observers did agree on is that buying Motorola is unlikely to help Google with its Oracle lawsuit. Google doesn't expect to complete the purchase until late this year or in early 2012, while the Oracle trial is scheduled to begin in 11 weeks. Oracle isn't in the wireless business, so Motorola's patents wouldn't be effective bargaining chips anyway. And Oracle is suing Google for copyright as well as patent infringement, Mixon noted.

Neither Goldberg or Mixon see the Oracle case as a deal-breaker for Android, however. Oracle wants Android to flourish so it can collect royalty fees from it, Mixon said. And Google has deep pockets, so it could afford to pay significant damages to Oracle if necessary, Goldberg said.

"To me, a bigger concern is what Google is going to do to protect the whole ecosystem," Goldberg said.

It's unclear if Motorola's patents will be able to help Android device makers fend off the lawsuits against them. It depends how fast Google closes the acquisition and exactly what patents Motorola owns, Mixon said.

 

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