5 questions about Google's Motorola buy

Is the acquisition enough to protect Android from patent lawsuits?

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 search giant will own one of its closest Android partners for a sale price around $12.5 billion. Google said Android will remain an open platform and that Motorola will be run as a separate business. Motorola has produced 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 when confronting patent issues, but a big unanswered question is how Android partners will react to Goog-orola in the long term. Here are 5 questions 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 other patent applications pending worldwide, according to the company Website. That's a pretty big arsenal that could provide Google some leverage to countersue competitors should the recent Android 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 a number 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 do something to protect itself and its Android partners. The big question is whether Motorola has enough patents to ensure Android's competitors will stop suing and asking for royalties.

Did Google Buy Motorola To Protect Android From Motorola?

It may not be clear how effective Motorola's patent portfolio will be against Apple, Microsoft, Oracle and others, but at least Motorola Mobility reportedly believes in the strength of its patents. Less than a week ago, Motorola Mobility CEO Sanjay Jha hinted that his company might 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 Favored Status Have To Change?

Motorola wasn't just any old Android partner; the two companies have worked closely together for several years. Motorola was first to use Honeycomb --the first Android OS flavor built specifically for tablets--on its Motorola Xoom. Motorola was also responsible for the Droid, a landmark Android device that helped propel Android into the dominant position the platform holds today. Nearly two years ago, IDG News reported on Motorola's admittedly close relationship with Google.

But will that have to change if Google's Motorola acquisition is approved? Google may get itself into trouble with other Android vendors if Motorola ends up being the first manufacturer to launch with every new iteration of the Android OS going forward. Page says Google will run Motorola as a separate business that licenses Android, and Android will remain an open platform available to other vendors. It will be interesting to see just how independent a Google-owned Motorola would be.

Is This The End Of Motoblur?

One of the problems with Android is that numerous handset makers try and put their mark on Google's mobile OS with a variety of overlays such as HTC Sense, Samsung TouchWiz and Motorola's own Motoblur. Will Google use Motorola as a showcase for the vanilla version of Android without all that handset maker nonsense? That was Google's goal with the Nexus and Nexus S, and the search giant may be tempted to do the same thing with Motorola's entire phone lineup.

What Are Android Makers Saying?

Right now, it appears that Android makers such as HTC, LG and Sony Ericsson are happy to see Google acquire Motorola Mobility. Google has a posted a number of quotes from the CEOs of the three handset manufacturers, all of which are a variation on welcoming "Google's commitment to defending Android and its partners." So right now, it appears handset makers are happy to see Google obtain a number of patents that could shield Android from further patent litigation. But we'll have to see whether this tentative support for Google's patent war chest will hold once Motorola is a Google-owned company.

Connect with Ian Paul (@ianpaul ) and Today@PCWorld on Twitter for the latest tech news and analysis.

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Ian Paul

PC World (US online)
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