A new twist in Microsoft and Google’s fight over mobile-phone tech patents got thrown in today as Google announced it plans to buy Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion.
It’s Google’s biggest acquisition and a big move in the fierce fight over the mobile-phone market. Google’s Android operating system has been leading in the smartphone market over competitors such as Apple’s iOS on its iPhone and Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7.
One of the main reasons Google is buying Motorola Mobility seems to be access to Motorola’s thousands of mobile-phone technology patents.
In recent months, Microsoft has gone after a handful of companies – including Motorola – that make Android phones and tablets, saying Microsoft has patents on some of the technologies found in certain Android features. It has sued or persuaded the companies to pay it license fees.
Motorola Mobility was one of the companies Microsoft sued. In October 2010, Microsoft
filed suit in the U.S. District Court of Western Washington and complained to the International Trade Commission, saying Motorola’s Droid phones, which use the Android platform, infringe on nine of Microsoft’s patents.
In November, Motorola countersued Microsoft in federal courts in California and Florida, saying Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows Phone 7, Hotmail and Exchange Server software infringe on its patents.
More recently, Google lost a bidding war for thousands of patents from computer-networking-software maker Novell, and Nortel, a telecom gear maker. Google lost to a consortium that included Microsoft, Apple and Research In Motion.
Bitterness from that battle spilled into a public pissing match earlier this month, with Google’s chief legal officer accusing Microsoft and other in the consortium of engaging in anti-competitive practices again Android. Microsoft’s chief spokesman fired back, saying Google had been asked to be part of the consortium to bid on the Novell patents but had turned the offer down.
Google CEO Larry Page referenced the patent wars in his statement on the Motorola purchase, posted on the official Google blog.
“We recently explained how companies including Microsoft and Apple are banding together in anti-competitive patent attacks on Android. The U.S. Department of Justice had to intervene in the results of one recent patent auction to ‘protect competition and innovation in the open source software community’ and it is currently looking into the results of the Nortel auction. Our acquisition of Motorola will increase competition by strengthening Google’s patent portfolio, which will enable us to better protect Android from anti-competitive threats from Microsoft, Apple and other companies.”
Motorola has more than 17,000 patents on phone technology, about three times more than Nortel, the Associated Press reports.
Page, in his statement, also said the acquisition would not change Google’s “commitment to run Android as an open platform. Motorola will remain a licensee of Android and Android will remain open. We will run Motorola as a separate business.”
The acquisition has the approval of both companies’ boards and is expected to close by the end of this year or early 2012, the Associated Press reports. That may be overly ambitious, however, as the deal is likely to face regulatory scrutiny.
We have asked Microsoft for comment on what this acquisition means for them, their patent fight, and their partnership with Nokia. We will update this story as we learn more.