17 August 2011

Google and Motorola – Patentology On the Radio

Independent current affairs program The Wire, which goes out daily on a number of community radio stations around Australia, today broadcast a piece on Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility (see Google Joins the ‘Hardware Club’ While Microsoft Whines).

We were contacted by producer/journalist Farah Ahmed for comment, and were very pleased to contribute to the story, which can be downloaded here: ‘Google acquires Motorola Mobility’ at The Wire (MP3, 4 minutes, 1.6MB).

Overall, it is a very good piece. which manages to cover quite a lot of ground and to achieve a fair balance of perspectives, especially considering the time constraint.

The story opens with a quotation from the recent blog post by Google’s Chief Legal Officer David Drummond, which we reported in Apple v Samsung: Google Says It’s All About Android, specifically his statement that ‘Microsoft and Apple have always been at each other’s throats, so when they get into bed together you have to start wondering what's going on.’

Never mind that it is not true that Microsoft and Apple are always ‘at each other’s throats’ (Microsoft continues to develop and sell Office:mac, and recent-generation Apple Mac computers can all run Windows).  Of course there has been healthy competition between the two companies, and the occasional bust-up, but in modern business a bit of coopetition is nothing unusual.

The irony, of course, is that just a week after complaining about Microsoft, Apple and others ‘banding together’ to acquire hundreds of patents formerly owned by Novell, and over 6,000 former Nortel patents, Google has dwarfed these purchases with a deal that nets it over 17,000 patents, and a viable handset manufacturing business.

Of course Drummond knew what was coming – Google did not make a decision to spend $12.5 billion overnight – so your guess is as good as ours what he thought he was doing with his blog post.  We would love to see what a game theorist would make of all these goings-on.

As a counterpoint to our views, which were along similar lines to those expressed in Google Joins the ‘Hardware Club’ While Microsoft Whines, Ms Ahmed spoke with David Vaile, from the Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre at the University of NSW, who discussed the concerns and controversy around ‘software patents’, particularly in relation to the standards of review and examination, their potential impact on competition and innovation, and their possible adverse effect on smaller companies.

Overall, therefore, the story covers a range of issues regarding software patents in general, and the ramifications of the Google acquisition in particular.  Although this does not provide opposing views on any specific point, such as the merits or otherwise of software patents, it does provide two quite different perspectives.  This is a good thing – the world has no need of another pro-versus-anti-software-patent debate.

The one criticism we would have of the piece – forgivable considering its timeliness, and necessarily limited scope – is its implication that this story is all about ‘software patents’.  Novell was primarily a computer networking company.  Nortel was a telecommunications equipment manufacturer (i.e. a competitor to the likes of Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, Ciena and Nokia-Siemens).  Motorola Mobility is a mobile device manufacturer.  None of these are principally software businesses (although many of their products no doubt comprise embedded software components), and most of their patents are unlikely to be the kind of ‘software patents’ that generally create great controversy.

We thank Ms Ahmed for the opportunity to contribute, and hope that you will take a few minutes to listen to the story.


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