News that GOOGLE is selling Motorola has sparked media commentary that this acquisition was a mistake.

See here for just one contribution to that discussion.

The initial price tag for GOOGLE to buy Motorola was US$12.4 billion. It has since recouped US$2.35 billion through the sale of the set top box business, and will receive a further $2.9 billion for the hand set business (provided this is approved by regulators). That leaves a whopping US$7.15 billion between the purchase price and assets GOOGLE acquired. That figure doesn't event take into account the hefty losses Motorola ran up while under GOOGLE's ownership. Those numbers seem pretty damning on face value.

However, GOOGLE is retaining the majority of the patents that came with Motorola. So why is GOOGLE holding onto those rights, yet selling the hardware divisions of the Motorola business?

The obvious1 answer is that those patents are seen internally at GOOGLE as a key strategic asset. There is bound to be a close connection between the inventions protected by these patents and the direction GOOGLE will take for its expanding mobile software business. In addition, there is the potential for the patents to be used in a retaliatory infringement2 dispute with competitors. That will help to protect GOOGLE and the cell phone makes using its software, whilst expanding a core aspect of its business.

The unspoken point is that GOOGLE probably placed a higher premium on the Motorola patents than many analysts. The company likely understood that to continue growing in the mobile technology space it needed a way to fend off restrictive patent3 infringement actions. Given the potential growth and revenue from that market there was an urgent need to play catch up and prepare for attacks. These factors all contribute to why GOOGLE was prepared to pay such a high price tag for Motorola.

The tech giant's rapid expansion shows that it knows what it is doing. I'd back GOOGLE as having made an informed decision on the correct price to pay for Motorola; only it knows the details of the Motorola patent portfolio and how that can be leveraged.

The media focus is now on Lenovo's expansion into the cell phone market, and it is being lauded as a company to watch. However, I wouldn't under estimate GOOGLE. Those in the mobile technology industry should be wary. The cell phone wars are definitely going to heat up!

Regardless of how the cell phone industry develops, this scenario highlights how a strategic patent portfolio can provide significant value.


1For a New Zealand patent to be valid, it must not be obvious, and must involve an inventive step, over known technologies. See novelty, anticipation and inventive step for further details

2Refers to the commission of a prohibited act with respect to a patented invention without permission from the patentee. In New Zealand, the Deed of Letters Patent confers on the patentee a monopoly to make, use, vend or exercise the invention in New Zealand. Performing any of these acts without the permission of the patentee will amount to an infringement if the patent is current and in force. Permission will typically be granted in the form of a license. Remedies for infringement can include an injunction to restrain further infringement, payment of damages suffered by the patentee as a consequence of the infringement or payment by the infringer of any profit he/she/it made by virtue of the infringement, and legal costs.

3A proprietary right in an invention which provides the owner with an exclusive right for up to 20 years to make, sell, use or import the invention. In exchange for this monopoly the patent is published so that others can see how the invention works and build on that knowledge. The patented invention may also be used by the public once the patent lapses.

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James & Wells Intellectual Property, three time winner of the New Zealand Intellectual Property Laws Award and first IP firm in the world to achieve CEMARS® certification.