Europe and US approves Google’s takeover of Motorola Mobility

14 Feb 2012

The EU has joined the US in giving the all clear for Google to proceed with its US$12.5bn acquisition of Motorola Mobility. However, the real test will be just how open Google is with those 17,000+ patents.

The US Department of Justice, which also approved Google’s purchase of patents from Nortel Networks, approved the acquisition yesterday.

As part of the acquisition announced last August, Google will gain access to some 17,000 patents, as well as a further 7,000 pending patents.

Google has said it intends to remain faithful to its open ecosystem mantra and will licence the patents to other technology companies.

However, by acquiring Motorola Mobility, the internet giant gains access to hardware manufacturing capabilities and it’s hard not to imagine Google eventually making its own-branded hardware products, such as smartphones, tablet computers and web-connected TVs. It’s hard not to imagine device makers like HTC and Samsung, who are so dependant on the Android mobile OS, feeling a little concerned about this acquisition.

The ongoing patent battles between Apple and Samsung, not to mention the patent frenzy raging through Silicon Valley and no doubt attracting patent trolls, could undermine innovation.

While Google has held itself askance as much as possible from these patent wars and has shone a beacon for open source, its senior management know very well that Silicon Valley lives and dies by patents.

Its access to patents belonging to former industry leaders Motorola and Nortel is a serious advantage that has not escaped the imagination of regulators.

Joaquín Almunia, commission vice-president in charge of competition policy, said: “We have approved the acquisition of Motorola Mobility by Google because, upon careful examination, this transaction does not itself raise competition issues.

“Of course, the commission will continue to keep a close eye on the behaviour of all market players in the sector, particularly the increasingly strategic use of patents,” Almunia said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years