At the time Google’s $12 billion acquisition of Motorola was seen primarily as a defensive manoeuvre, acquiring the latter’s extensive patent trove to aid in the defence of the entire Android ecosystem, given that Google’s own intellectual property holdings were rather sparse in the mobile space. But it hasn’t taken long for companies pursuing patent litigation to find chinks in Google’s new IP armour, as this week Microsoft won an ongoing courtroom battle in Germany with Motorola over touchscreen patents.
The loss has immediately called into question the value of Google’s Motorola investment, given that the one thing the search engine giant hoped to get out of its multi-billion dollar acquisition was legal clout, not more of the same mandated licensing fees or product injunctions its suffered at the hands of Microsoft in years past.
But despite the fact that the first real legal challenge to Google’s new Motorola patent trove has ended in a loss, perhaps it’s too early to decry the entire deal, given that the painful reality of such patent litigation is that it’s practically never-ending. So while Microsoft may have won the battle, Google is still hoping to win the war.
While the courtroom win entitles Microsoft to some say in how this plays out for Motorola, offering the PC giant the choice of enforcing an injunction against the infringing Motorola tablets and smartphones, blocking them from German stores, the legal process conversely allows Motorola the options to appeal, redesign a workaround of the infringing technology, or strike a licensing deal with Microsoft.
Although Motorola has yet to give any indication of its next step, I would guess a redesign is likely out of the question. Given that the patent in question relates directly to touchscreens, however, would certainly make any redesign problematic, as any changes would directly affect Android developers as others in the extended Android ecosystem as well.
Further, while Microsoft already has several licensing deals in place with Android partners (deals that allow Microsoft to make more money directly off Android than Google does), I would guess that Motorola (now a subsidiary of Google) has no interest in what will surely be interpreted as a sign of weakness on Google’s part.
The fact of the matter, however, is that patent litigation, particularly in the technology sector it seems, has become a Sisyphean task, with all players forced to eternally push their immense patent boulders to the top of the legal hill, only to have the gods of the courtroom push them back to the bottom. To wit, even when courts award landmark victories, as we saw in the ongoing Apple v Samsung in a California courtroom recently, such decisions are often undone through appeal or through reverse decisions in different jurisdictions.
Simply put, while I have no doubt that its embarrassing that the first real legal challenge to Google’s new Motorola patent arsenal has ended in defeat, it by no means spells the end of the war, meaning that perhaps Google’s $12 billion investment in Motorola’s intellectual property may yet pay off with its own landmark victories, as ongoing patent litigation is never a zero sum situation.