5 unanswered questions about Google’s Motorola acquisition

Google has agreed to acquire Motorola Mobility to “supercharge the Android ecosystem” and protect Android against aggressive patent litigation from competitors such as Apple and Microsoft, according to company CEO Larry Page. If the deal meets regulatory approval, the searchgiant will own one of its closest Android partners for a sale pricearound $12.5 billion.

Google said Android will remain an open platform and that Motorola will be run as a separate business. Motorola hasproduced many high profile Android devices such as the Motorola Droid, Cliq, Atrix 4G, and the recent Motorola Xoom tablet.

The strategic acquisition could work in Google’s favor whenconfronting patent issues, but a big unanswered question is how Androidpartners will react to Goog-orola in the long term. Here are 5questions at the top of my mind about Google’s Motorola purchase:

Will Google’s patent play work? Motorola Mobility has more than 14,600 patents with nearly 7,000 otherpatent applications pending worldwide, according to the companyWebsite. That’s a pretty big arsenal that could provideGoogle some leverage to countersue competitors should the recentAndroid patent wars continue.

HTC, maker of the Evo, Desire and other Android devices,recently lost a patent suit to Apple and previously agreed to license anumber of patents from Microsoft to protect its Android business.Microsoft in June signed patent licensing deals with Velocity Micro, a small maker of Android-based tablets and e-readers, and defense giant General Dynamics for its use of Android. The Windows Phone maker in June said Samsung should pay Microsoft $15 for every Android phone the company produces, and Microsoft in October went after Motorola for patent infringement. Android is also under attack from major technology players such as Oracle, which recently brought a suit against Google over Android.

With so many looming patent problems, Google clearly had to dosomething to protect itself and its Android partners. The big questionis whether Motorola has enough patents to ensure Android’s competitors will stop suing and asking for royalties.

Did Google Buy Motorola To ProtectAndroid From Motorola? It may not be clear how effective Motorola’s patent portfolio will beagainst Apple, Microsoft, Oracle and others, but at least MotorolaMobility reportedly believes in the strength of its patents. Less thana week ago, Motorola Mobility CEO Sanjay Jha hinted that his companymight use its patent portfolio to go after other Android makers,according to Unwired View. That’s an interesting thing to do,especially just six days before Google buys your company.

Will Motorola’s FavoredStatus Have To Change? Motorola wasn’t just any old Android partner; the two companies haveworked closely together for several years. Motorola was first to useHoneycomb –the first Android OS flavor built specifically fortablets–on its Motorola Xoom. Motorola was also responsible for theDroid, a landmark Android device that helped propel Android into thedominant position the platform holds today. Nearly two years ago, IDGNews reported on Motorola’s admittedly close relationship with Google.

But will that have to change if Google’s Motorola acquisitionis approved? Google may get itself into trouble with other Androidvendors if Motorola ends up being the first manufacturer to launch withevery new iteration of the Android OS going forward. Page says Googlewill run Motorola as a separate business that licenses Android, andAndroid will remain an open platform available to other vendors. Itwill be interesting to see just how independent a Google-owned Motorolawould be.

Is This The End Of Motoblur? One of the problems with Android is that numerous handset makers tryand put their mark on Google’s mobile OS with a variety of overlayssuch as HTC Sense, Samsung TouchWiz and Motorola’s own Motoblur. WillGoogle use Motorola as a showcase for the vanilla version of Androidwithout all that handset maker nonsense? That was Google’s goal withthe Nexus and Nexus S, and the search giant may be tempted to do thesame thing with Motorola’s entire phone lineup.

What Are Android Makers Saying? Right now, it appears that Android makers such as HTC, LG and SonyEricsson are happy to see Google acquire Motorola Mobility. Google hasa posted a number of quotes from the CEOs of the three handsetmanufacturers, all of which are a variation on welcoming “Google’scommitment to defending Android and its partners.”

So right now, it appears handset makers are happy to seeGoogle obtain a number of patents that could shield Android fromfurther patent litigation. But we’ll have to see whether this tentativesupport for Google’s patent war chest will hold once Motorola is aGoogle-owned company.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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