Google announced plans to buy Motorola Mobility this morning. The acquisition would bring Google and one of its closest Android partners closer together. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that Samsung, HTC, LG, or other device makers will exit the Android market now that they’d be competing directly with Google. Motorola will be operated as an independent company, and in fact, executives from a number of competitors have already said that they “welcome” the news.
That’s because the acquisition isn’t just about controlling hardware and software. It’s about patents. By acquiring Motorola, Google gets to add an awful lot of intellectual property to its portfolio, so that next time a company like Microsoft or Apple wants to file a lawsuit saying that a product infringes on some patent or other, Google can reach into its portfolio and either prove that it’s covered… or threaten a countersuit for any technology that the competitor is using which infringes on Google’s patent.
In other words, a large part of the reason Google wants to buy Motorola is to make the world safe for Android. While Google doesn’t charge handset or tablet makers a license fee to use Android, Microsoft does, and other patent holders would like to. Without a large enough patent portfolio to protect itself, Google could see its free operating system becoming more expensive to deploy than Windows Phone 7 or other competing products.
So while I suspect we may eventually see some killer phones and tablets from Motorola once the acquisition is finalized later this year or early next year, Google really, really wants to keep working with other companies such as Samsung, HTC, LG, Acer, and Asus. Only time will tell if they want to keep working with Google.
In fact, it’s not even clear that future Google Nexus phones and tablets will be produced by Motorola. The Google Nexus One and Nexus S were produced by HTC and Samsung, respectively, and are basically Google’s flagship developer devices that showed off the latest features of the Android operating system at the time they were produced. The software maker plans to continue accepting bids for future Nexus hardware projects, with Motorola submitting bids just like any other company, since Motorola will be operated as a separate company from the Google Android team.