Summary:

Google could hold more patents than Apple, according to intellectual property investment bank MDB group. On paper at least, it looks like it could put Google and Apple on equal legal footing. But in reality, there are a few reasons why that won’t happen.

Android Fireside Chat with Google's Andy Rubin and Motorola's Sanjay Jha at Mobilize 2009

Android Fireside Chat with Google's Andy Rubin and Motorola's Sanjay Jha at Mobilize 2009So we all know Google stands to get a large selection of patents if and when its $12.5 billion purchase of Motorola Mobility gets final approval. What you might not know is that it could actually make Google the holder of as many or more patents than Apple, according to intellectual property investment bank MDB group (via Bloomberg). On paper at least, it sounds like that might make for a legal stalemate that could put an end to the ongoing smartphone patent battle. But in reality, there are a few reasons why that won’t happen.

1. Cards are already on the table

Google isn’t getting a lost treasure chest filled with unimaginable secrets in this deal. Motorola was and is already actively engaged in patent litigation with a number of parties, including Apple and Microsoft. These actions will continue, according to assertions made by Google during yesterday’s conference call about the acquisition. Google may help Motorola sustain these legal battles, but it won’t necessarily create any new ones; Motorola stood to gain more by asserting its portfolio than Google does, since licensing fees could have benefited the faltering company in the same way they now help Kodak flesh out its bottom line. So it stands to reason that it looked long and hard at its portfolio to see what had the most potential. Even if Motorola hasn’t played all of its patent cards yet, it probably chose the strongest to play first.

A table showing the size of the biggest patent deals and IP portfolios. Source: UBS.

2. Broad licensing limits potential for legal action

Motorola’s patents have another weakness: According to experts like FOSS Patents’ Florian Mueller and industry-watcher Steve Crowley, they are very broadly licensed. What that means is that many of Motorola’s patents are already legitimately licensed by parties involved in the smartphone patent battles, thus limiting their ability to be used as metaphorical intellectual property nukes in a “mutually assured destruction” scenario, as Mueller puts it.

3. These aren’t the patents you’re looking for

Motorola may have a lot of patents thanks to its role as a founder of cellular technology, but they don’t necessarily apply as specifically to newer technology, including smartphones like the iPhone and iPad. Motorola itself talks about its strengths lying more with network technologies and “video compression, decompression and security tech,” and Roughly Drafted points out that Google has been in the Android business longer than Motorola, which should have provided it with more time to acquire patents relevant to defending the platform.

Google may have bought Motorola at least in part for the patents, and it may come out considerably richer in that regard than it was before. But that doesn’t mean it has guaranteed itself immunity from the patent attacks that continue to be directed at Android, and I doubt we’ll see Apple deviate much from its current course in that regard as a result of this deal.

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