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Are Motorola's patents enough to protect Android?

Google has offered a premium to buy Motorola Mobility, to help ward off legal attacks against Android

By , IDG News Service
August 16, 2011 12:09 AM ET

IDG News Service - Google's $12.5 billion purchase of Motorola Mobility will land it a vast portfolio of patents, but the legal obstacles facing its Android operating system are far from over, legal experts said.

Android has been beset with legal challenges from all sides, including a multibillion dollar lawsuit filed by Oracle, and complaints brought by Apple against Android device makers including HTC and Samsung. Meanwhile, Microsoft has been extracting license fees from Android device makers, saying it owns technology patents related to Google's mobile OS.

The Motorola acquisition, announced Monday, should help shield Google and its partners from future legal action by Apple and others. But it may be too late to help device makers facing lawsuits already under way, and it won't help Google to fight Oracle's Java patent infringement lawsuit, which is due to begin trial in October, legal experts said.

Google never put much value in building its own patent portfolio and was caught off guard by the "patent arms race" that has come to define the wireless industry. Last week it lashed out at competitors, accusing Microsoft, Apple and others of trying to impose a "patent tax" on Android to stifle its runaway growth.

So its announcement Monday that it will pay $40 per share for Motorola -- or 63 percent over Friday's closing stock price -- came as little surprise to some observers. The acquisition 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," CEO Larry Page said in a blog post.

Alexander Poltorak, chairman and CEO of General Patent Corp., said Motorola's portfolio will serve as a deterrent to companies thinking of suing Google or its partners. "Now they will think twice before filing a complaint, because they can be guaranteed Google will strike back," he said.

The deal will give Google "a lot of heft," said Jonathan Goldberg, a research analyst at Deutsche Bank. Motorola is among the oldest wireless companies and has a strong and credible patent portfolio, he said. Motorola Mobility has said it owns about 24,500 patents.

'I think it's a big step and I expect there will be a big sigh of relief at Google once this deal closes," said David Mixon, a patent lawyer with Bradley Arant Boult Cummings. "They were outbid in the Nortel patent auctions and that was a consortium led by Microsoft and Apple. They clearly were feeling some pressure."

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.

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