Big news in technology last week with the announcement that Google will make its largest acquisition in company history with the purchase of Motorola Mobility.
There are many questions about why Google may be making such a move. The short answer? Patents.
Google is a relatively young company, about 15, compared to many of its competitors. Apple, Microsoft, and Oracle are all more than 30 years old. These older companies have large patent portfolios and decided they could slow the momentum of and profit from Google and, more specifically Android, by threatening to bring or by bringing lawsuits against the Android ecosystem.
Android is an open source software project. Like many open source projects, Android has roots in technologies like Linux and Java. Java is a programming language that was developed at Sun Microsystems, the company lead by Eric Schmidt before he joined Google. Sun Microsystems decided to open source Java. The firm, along with Java, was later purchased by Oracle - the king of proprietary software. With the success of Android, Oracle decided they wanted to collect royalties from Google based on Android's specific application of Java. Obviously, Google would prefer not to pay Oracle for using open source software. Ironically, there are companies who pay Microsoft for each Android device they sell. HTC, the company that manufactures many Android devices, including the first available device, the G1, as well as the Nexus One, is one high profile example. Other devices being attacked by Microsoft's litigation team include the Barnes & Noble Nook which is powered by Android. Apple has also filed suit against HTC and Samsung based on more than a dozen Android powered devices and tablets. Microsoft, Apple and Oracle all have very strong patent portfolios leaving the open source Android vulnerable to this type of "competition".
Google's purchase of Motorola Mobility, the company that invented the mobile phone, and their 17,000 patents in conjunct with about 1,000 purchased from IBM puts Google's patent portfolio on par with any firm in mobile. There are also additional "benefits" as Motorola Mobility receives royalty payments from Microsoft for every Xbox sold. Motorola also has suits against Microsoft across nearly every product line and went after Apple's use of mobile communications technologies in the Mac, iPhone and iPad.
The Motorola Mobility patent portfolio is one of the best in the industry. Google will leverage these new assets to protect the Android open source project and the partner ecosystem.