Motorola's other gift to Google: A round with the Federal Trade Commission

Google’s announcement this week that it was selling Motorola Mobility for $2.9 billion to Lenovo was perhaps a tacit acknowledgement that it was a mistake to buy the handset maker two years ago for $12.5 billion, as my colleague Troy Wolverton wrote here.

But Google is keeping what it originally wanted out of MMI in the first place – the patents. The company plans to keep the majority of the the 17,000 MMI patents Google picked up and use them to help defend the Android ecosystem, the company said in a blog post. A problem for young companies like Google and Facebook is that they don’t have warehouses of patents to use for cross-licensing deals and to defend themselves against patent-rich competitors like Microsoft or against patent holding companies.

It isn’t clear, however, that the MMI patents have been helpful to Google during patent litigation.

And, the Motorola patents certainly didn’t help in one way – they put Google in the cross hairs of government investigators in the U.S. and in Europe.

Already facing antitrust investigators over its search practices, Google found itself in a corner with few allies backing up Motorola Mobility’s practice of trying to get competitors products blocked over MMI patents that were part of industry standards.

The company settled antitrust claims last year with the Federal Trade Commission and agreed to limit how it uses standards patents in litigation. The company advocates for federal patent reform and nudging tech to rethink how it uses patents in litigation, and the FTC battle and settlement hurt its image on that front. Some Washington insiders speculated that the FTC fight led Google to keep its head down in other political and policy battles last year.

As writes GigaOm’s Tom Krazit, it doesn’t matter if Google got little out of its MMI odyssey, he says, because “the cash machine that is search advertising allows CEO Larry Page to make mistakes and chase unicorns for years to come.”

But some experiences hurt more than others.

Above: A man walks past a Lenovo shop in Beijing, China. Google is selling Motorola’s smartphone business to Lenovo for $2.9 billion. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan). 

Michelle Quinn Michelle Quinn (157 Posts)

Michelle Quinn is a Business Columnist at the San Jose Mercury News. Prior to her current role, she was the Silicon Valley correspondent at Politico covering tech policy and politics. She has also covered the tech industry at the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. She was a blogger for the New York Times.