Yes, Google needed Motorola for the patents

In an interview with CNET, Google's new patent law chief says he has no intention of striking first in the courtroom, but that he's ready to fight back...hard.

Jay Greene Former Staff Writer
Jay Greene, a CNET senior writer, works from Seattle and focuses on investigations and analysis. He's a former Seattle bureau chief for BusinessWeek and author of the book "Design Is How It Works: How the Smartest Companies Turn Products into Icons" (Penguin/Portfolio).
Jay Greene
3 min read

Google will no doubt come up with slick iterations of Motorola's hot Droid Razr mobile phone. And it may someday use the Motorola brand to launch a new tablet.

But make no mistake, Google is picking up Motorola to get its hands on the company's vast patent portfolio.

Google's Allen Lo Google

So says Allen Lo, Google's new deputy general counsel. Lo, who oversees Google's patent law group, joined the Web giant in January from Juniper Networks, where he was associate counsel. Prior to that, Lo was in private practice as an intellectual property lawyer, and he worked for three years as a patent examiner in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

In an interview with CNET, Lo said the disadvantage of Google's relatively skimpy patent portfolio led the company to bid $12.5 billion for Motorola Mobility and its trove of intellectual property in August.

"We would probably not have bought Motorola if we did not have the situation," Lo said.

That deal, which has received regulatory approval in the United States and Europe, awaits an OK from Chinese regulators before it closes. The significance of Motorola's patent stash is key to Lo.

"It won't be Google with a tiny portfolio" after it acquires Motorola, Lo said.

But even with the new patents, Lo doesn't plan to change Google's strategy of not suing patent infringers. Google has never sued a company for infringing on its patents. But he intends to continue to build Google's portfolio of patents as a bulwark against those who might come after it.

"I don't see us doing a first strike," Lo said. "But just by having (a large patent portfolio) creates a certain deterrence. If I have more patents that I can bring to the table, at least we can talk."

That's because patent disputes are often resolved by the threat of countersuits. Typically, a company that believes its intellectual property has been infringed threatens to sue, or actually sues, the alleged violator. The most successful defense for the accused company is to find one of its own patents that the accusing company has allegedly violated -- and then threaten a countersuit. That gives it leverage to propose a cross-licensing deal that would keep both companies out of court.

It's a kabuki dance that's all too familiar in the tech world. But it's one that Google largely ignored as rivals such as Microsoft built huge stockpiles of patents. That left the Web giant, and the companies that use its Android mobile operating system, vulnerable to patent infringement claims.

Several, such as HTCand LG, have paid Microsoft to license its technology to continue to use Android and avoid litigation. Microsoft has sued companies that haven't agreed to licenses, including Barnes & Noble and Motorola.

Lo is ramping up Google's patent-generating machinery as well. That means adding new patent attorneys, who can help file patents. Roughly 90 people report to Lo in Google's patent law group.

"We are upping our efforts around internal patenting," Lo said.

That also means easing the process of putting together the paperwork to seek patents. That's particularly important since many developers are reluctant to patent software over concerns that they are of dubious merit and only serve to slow innovation. Lo estimates that Google filed three to four times as many patents in 2011 as it did in 2010.

That larger portfolio should help Google in its continuing patent battles with Microsoft. But while Google's Android and Chrome operating systems remain targets for the software giant, as well as for Apple and Oracle, the company has no plans to be the aggressor in patent litigation. Google has never sued a company for infringing on its patents.

"We have principles, things that we don't see ourselves doing," Lo said.