Up to this point, all of Android’s patent related woes have come from what Google calls a “hostile, organized campaign” against the company. Major manufacturers and software developers have been ganging up left and right. Public statements are being used against previous partners. And things are about to get a lot worse.
You see, if Android’s patent struggle is against competing companies, then there are ways to fight back. Buying patent portfolios, partnering with another major company or even taking the it’s-not-fair argument to court are all viable options. But if the war is taken onto home turf, if things erupt from the inside out, then there will be blood.
Motorola owns quite possibly the healthiest patent portfolio in the mobile industry. To put it into perspective, Nortel owns just 6,000. InterDigital, who’s portfolio is rumored to catch some $5 billion dollars at auction, owns around 9,000. Nokia, who’s been around for about as long as Motorola, has 10,000. Apple also owns nearly 10,000. And Motorola owns a whopping 17,000, just some 3,000 short of patent master Microsoft. As you can see, Motorola is certainly in a position of power when it comes to a mobile patent war.
Until now, some have suggested Motorola could be Android’s saving grace. If Google were to do something crazy like, oh say, buy Motorola Mobility, then Google would have enough ammo to win this war. But it looks like a very different scenario could be coming to light. During his recent appearance at the Oppenhimer Technology & Communication conference, Sanjay Jha made a comment that should have Google on edge:
I would bring up IP as very important for differentiation (among Android vendors). We have a very large IP portfolio, and I think in the long term, as things settle down, you will see a meaningful difference in positions of many different Android players. Both in terms of avoidance of royalties, as well as potentially being able to collect royalties. And that will make a big difference to people who have very strong IP positions.Sanjay JhaMotorola Mobility
Essentially, Motorola will be looking to differentiate themselves from rapidly expanding companies like Samsung and HTC by collecting royalties from them. If this were to ever happen (especially if accompanied by the other major players in the industry who also want their share of the royalties), Motorola would be killing Android from the inside out. When one of Android’s biggest supporters would rather collect royalties from rival manufacturers than help the platform survive, it’s certainly not a good sign.
There’s no telling when or if Motorola will start the necessary paperwork to do something like this. It’s their legal right to demand royalties from other companies infringing on their patents, but it would do nothing other than further harm Android and Google’s position in the patent war. And right now, it doesn’t look good to begin with.