back to article Explaining the Chocolate Factory's Patent Panic

Debate rages on about whether Google's acquisition of Motorola Mobility is good for Android, or an expensive mistake for Google, made in a moment of irrational panic. Our columnist Matt Asay thinks it "spells iPhone doom", and he's not alone. John C Dvorak thinks it's "pure genius". This supposes that Google performed a cost- …


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  1. Bumpy Cat


    Patents were supposed to be a means of ensuring an inventor could profit. Now they've become just another weapon for large corporations to use to attack each other.

    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Ludicrous

      Yes but the two aren't mutually exclusive.

      Many patent problems are caused by the cost and difficulty for the small innovator to defend them, and the short (20 year) time frame to recoup. Ask James Dyson. It took 13 years from filing the patent to launching the product.

      1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

        Short time?

        I suspect the "short (20 year) time frame to recoup" is not true in a lost of high technology areas, and not for an company with some backing (which I guess was Dyson's problem?).

        Possibly the only case where recouping is a long term issue to justify 20-25 years protection is in pharmaceuticals where the effective cost of bringing a drug to market is staggering, much more than the cost of its initial development, due to the length and costs for clinical trials, etc.

        The original 20 years you must remember was set a LONG time ago, where products had lifetimes of 10-20 years or more. I don't think that is justified any more where products go through a generation change in 2-3 years. Certainly for software patents, if they are at all justified, something like 5 years is plenty.

        The idea behind patents, of ensuring reward for the inventor and to make R&D profitable compared to copying, is good. The problem comes from how it is applied: in terms of pointlessly wide & vague patents being granted, and their use in 'blocking litigation'.

        Maybe in a lot of fields some compulsory licensing arrangement with returns in proportion to the overall IP of a product's revenue would make sense, blowing away most litigation (and the resulting waste of money) and returning to success of the 'best product' and not the biggest troll.

        1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

          Re: Short time?

          " I don't think that is justified any more where products go through a generation change in 2-3 years. "

          People change their dishwashers and vacuum cleaners every 2-3 years?

          Yes, vague patents are really "ideas" and shouldn't be granted.

          1. Anonymous Coward

            Re: Short time?

            "People change their dishwashers and vacuum cleaners every 2-3 years?"

            Maybe not that frequently, but you don't even need to take out a subscription to Which? to learn that manufacturers don't really build longevity into their products these days. In some countries manufacturers whine that the statutory five year warranty is too long, although it was the mobile phone vendors whining the loudest. Which? even ran a survey eliciting details of the longest-serving appliances of their readership just for the lulz, accompanied by anecdotes of how poor the modern replacements are, often ones branded the same as the originals.

            As for the suggestion that 20 years is not long enough for a patent's lifetime, accompanied by a story about Dyson needing 13 years to get his product to market, such a suggestion, especially in the context of software where implementation is usually the hard part, just goes to show that giving someone a supposedly "gold standard" monopoly on a product's technical design - we're not even talking about patents on ideas or commonly known business processes - is arguably rewarding the wrong part of the endeavour.

            Not that people should be given monopolies on entire classes of activity, anyway.

            1. Anonymous Coward

              5 years?

              "the statutory five year warranty "

              Where do I need to move to ? In the US isn't it just 90 days ?

          2. Paul Crawford Silver badge

            @Re: Short time?

            "People change their dishwashers and vacuum cleaners every 2-3 years?"

            No, but production lifetimes are commonly shorter than 5 years for a given level of technology. Today it is not uncommon for consumer-focused ICs to have last-time buy notifications after a year or so.

            The original reason for patents (OK, the idealised one) was to exchange trade secrecy for the greater public good in return for a limited time monopoly on an idea so you could profit from it. You could argue that 5 years from the filing date may not be ideal, but something like "5 years from the first commercial implementation or 10 from filing" would be sufficient opportunity to profit and not a hinderence to progress.

            Though I still think the biggest issues are vague/wide patents together with the real problem of an engineer knowing what, out of a few million active patents, actually apply and could become litigation-based blockers for trolls wanting big money (and not a ~0.01% expense for 1 of a few hundred IP-related items involved).

        2. sgt101

          the idea behind patents

          Patents exist to incentivize people publish the details of their invention so that it can be used for the greater good (after 20 years).

          If patents didn't exist then there would be a lot more trade secrets.

          1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

            @the idea behind patents

            That was the original goal. I suspect that today it would be easy enough for most products to be reverse-engineered to find out how they work, so it is not such a problem.

            The principle of rewarding inventiveness is a good one, what is needed is a major update of a system that has fallen in to a disreputable state.

            We need shorter times to speed progress and limit the time spent searching for potential infringement. We need changes to stop trolling (where companies wait for infringement but don't actually have any "loss" because they don't make anything), and much faster & cheaper ways of resolving license fees (so the money goes to better products, and not armies of lawyers).

    2. Ted Treen
      Thumb Down


      It's not as bad as that in the UK:- US patent law is definitely akin to something conceived by Monty Python. The trouble is, its application has affected the mindset of companies all over the world.

      That is an ever-growing problem:- that, and US patent attorneys, who have all the rapacity of the Mongol hordes - and their personal morality is at about the same standard

  2. Marcus Aurelius

    Florian knows how many beans make five??

    Two plus two...

    1. Anonymous Coward

      As any fule kno,

      A bean, a bean, half a bean, a bean, a bean and a half.

      1. Natalie Gritpants

        As taught to me by my Grandmother

        Two beans and a bean; a bean and a half; and half a bean

    2. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      2 + 2 = 5? Get reals!

      #include <stdio.h>

      void print_sum( float f1, float f2 ) {

      printf( "%.0f + %.0f = %.0f? Get reals!\n", f1,f2, f1+f2 );


      int main() { print_sum( 2.4, 2.4 ); return 0; }

  3. Get the puck outa here

    John C Dvorak vs goat entrails

    Before anything John Dvorak says, especially about Apple, has any relevance, Hedy Lamarr's ghost will have risen and sued everybody for using her spread spectrum broadcasting technology, thereby bankrupting the entire cellphone industry. And that will happen after the solar flares have wiped out our satellites and made terrestrial wireless communication impossible.

    I'm buying up army surplus hand cranked handsets and lots of wire...

    1. Marcus Aurelius

      Hedy Lamarr

      Requested a patent circa 1942, so it would have expired in 1962, well before mobile phones hit the road.

      Of course, she should've created the MOASP (Mother Of All Submarine Patents) and played the patent office so it only issued 30 years later, when she'd really stand a chance of making money....

      1. Graham Marsden


        ... Hedley!!

        1. Handle This


          For reminding me how bodily-function-loosening funny Harvey Korman was.

  4. Sean Baggaley 1

    "Video compression, decompression and security"?

    Could this be an attempt to shore-up Google's preferred "WebM" video format against the possibility of litigation?

    Just because the purchased company has "Motorola" in its name, it doesn't necessary follow that the purpose of the purchase was all about mobile phones.

    (Also: am I the only one who thinks this "Satan" icon looks more like a car?)

    1. Rob Dobs
      Thumb Up

      wow I feel stupid

      looks like you say -- I just assumed it was a devil car for some reason....

    2. double0scotty
      Thumb Up

      Exactly what I was thinking

      As soon as the article started going on about the patents being for video compression, WebM instantly sprung to mind.

      Also what about the possibility that these patents relate to some video compression that's being used on the iPhone?

  5. g e

    All the same, though

    There is the assumption that you know everything Google knows about the deal, if not it's guesswork on what publicly available information there is.

    Just speculation albeit from an informed point of view. It's be the fuckup of the century if Google didn't know something the speculators didn't, the likelihood of which is still pretty darn high.

    No-one knew Google were buying Moto till they did, they can obviously keep a secret when they want to.

    1. Dave 142


      I think there's a lot more assumption amongst those patting Google on the back for its genius machiavellian moves.

  6. Big_Ted
    Thumb Down


    So the author who never writes a pro Google piece says they have made a panic buy....


    This is just another fluff opnion piece that has nothing to do with reality.

    Motorola may have a portfolio of patents (17,000) that won't help Google mostly but what about the 7,000 pending patents ? or has the author read through those as well.....

    Fail because this is as far off the truth as the iPhone is dead piece.

    1. Dave 124

      Motorola may have a portfolio of patents (17,000) that won't help Google....

      Actually think the first smart phone - the Blade, think Software Define Radio and this purchase is check and mate to Microsoft and Apple in the SDR phone market... unless they want to go back to analog and Moto was doing analog when Jobs was riding a tri-cycle!

  7. Tim Brown 1

    Has it occurred to anyone...

    ... that just maybe Google have decided they would like to enter the hardware business and that all this focus on Motorola's patent portfolio is a red herring?

    1. Marcus Aurelius

      Yes but

      Google already released their own phone, so spending 13B to fabricate some more would be waste of money perhaps. IIRC correctly Motorolas cellphone division lost money over the last few years, so I hope that Larry and Sergei do have a vision of where this purchase is going to go in the future

      The patents probably have much wider scope than just the current cellphone squabbles though. There is Googles WebM technology that might be made safer by having their own patent armoury.

  8. bg2b

    Dvorak is my idol

    If Dvorak says it was a good idea, that's enough analysis for me.

  9. StephenD


    Agreed - I've always seen it as a car.

    1. Ross R

      Re: Satan

      No, it's obviously a handbag!

      1. TeeCee Gold badge

        Re: Re: Satan

        <Lady Bracknell>

        A HANDBAG??!!!!????

        </Lady Bracknell>

  10. Rupert Stubbs

    Motorola is a dog.

    Google has been dealing with Motorola on Android-related stuff way before the puchase idea, so they must have noticed that Moto is the worst cultural fit you could imagine. Process-bound to the point of paralysis, Moto is the antithesis of Google's instinctive, let's-wing-it culture.

    "It's going to be run as a separate company," says Google. How's that going to work? Will Moto be able to run Windows Phone OS as well? Will they be able to make their own tweaks to Android (OK, given Blur, not such loss)? Will they get to keep the $3bn in cash they have in the cupboard?

    Not holding my breath for this one to work.

  11. amanfromearth

    Another reason then

    If it's not the patents, then Big G must have some other reason for the acquisition. Maybe it really wants to make hardware.

  12. Timbo99

    Another Attention Grabber!

    This is as nearly as informative as your article about Google behaving childlike for naming their products after ice-cream!!

    No doubt you have invested your entire retirement nest egg in APPL - good luck with that!

  13. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    Missing the point

    It's too tempting to try and second guess the value of the patents. As most of us are not patent lawyers this really ends up as rooting for one side or the other. However, to claim that only the quality of the patents and not their quantity matters would seem to overlook several previously protracted battles in the past. It also assumes that judges are interested in and able to understand the technical details. I think a court in Texas is often cited as an example of where there this is not necessarily the case.

    So, initially the purchase, if approved will give Google the opportunity to play the second most popular game in US business: sue and counter-sue (the most popular being mergers, acquisitions and sell-offs). This is rarely about the worthiness of a case and more about wearing down the opposition. As with takeovers, the sums involved are often irrelevant as it is usually OPM and can be created almost at will through central bank largesse. Google can now join in: Apple patents raindrops, Google patents snowflakes.

    What about if Google's real aim is to reform the US patent system and have the most mickey mouse patents, of which Apple and Microsoft have a bundle, declared invalid? How about getting the US to adopt the European system which has much less scope for patenting software in the first place? Because Google doesn't make it's money from physical products it is, in a sense, ahead of the game. Apple and Microsoft's defensive use of patents doesn't look like innovation to me.

    I suspect that reform of the US patent system is pretty much a certainty whether it be legislative or de facto - the sheer volume of stuff now being made and designed outside the US in China, Taiwan and Korea is tipping the scales already. How long do these financial behemoths think they can rule the roost when they effectively keep on handing over their IP to their real competitors? What is to stop Foxconn from doing a HTC / ZTE / Huawei and Samsung and start to offer its own innovations in its own products?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      I think Google is really, really, REALLY anxious not to invalidate software patents, because their empire is built on only one: tiny ads. Secondly, Microsoft doesn't build any phone hardware, so how would that put Google ahead of Microsoft. If anything, the nullification of obtuse software patents would favour the hardware makers. Maybe that's why Moto got bought?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Re: Missing the point

      "What about if Google's real aim is to reform the US patent system and have the most mickey mouse patents, of which Apple and Microsoft have a bundle, declared invalid?"

      This wouldn't surprise me one bit. It would also have the pleasing side-effect of shutting Florian Mueller up, since he claims that big business loves patents (I wonder why) and that's the only voice that should count. Saying that "We've got all these patents but they're just shit and I say abolish the system now!" might turn a few heads in the right direction.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Paris Hilton

        Big biz *doesn't* love patents?

        Who then?

        Attorneys, yes, sure. Politicians like to push them as that brings in envelopes. But otherwise?

        The mythical Dyson-like inventor in his garage? Enough of that blue-eyed fairy tale already.

        I can't think of anybody.

        Or is the meaning here that Florian Müller defending patents for Big Biz?

        1. Anonymous Coward

          Re: Big biz *doesn't* love patents?

          "Or is the meaning here that Florian Müller defending patents for Big Biz?"

          He has said that Big Business can claim that they need patents to become that big, and since they are big, make lots of money, employ lots of people, they can thus persuade politicians that patents are a precondition for large-scale wealth creation. If a very big business wipes its big bottom on the idea of patents using its own patents as the TP, that sends a different signal: that patents are irrelevant to wealth creation and it isn't just someone who doesn't have any making the complaint.

      2. Turtle

        Very impressive. . .

        The posts on this thread mooting the idea that Google bought these patents in order to reform or even abolish the US software patent system are among the stupidest posts which I have *ever* read on this site.

        1. Dave 142

          Yes Turtle

          I'd have to agree with that. A lot of people seem to find it hard to separate the wonderful, benevolent overlord image they have of Google from the reality that they are another major multinational corporation like Apple & MS. Everyone has a favourite technology company, that doesn't mean they are your friends or your fairy god mother.

  14. azimutha

    Crazy like a...

    I would give some credence to Google being crazy like a fox if it weren't for things like David Drummond's blog rants about the competition. He reminds me of the Sicilian switching wine cups in The Princess Bride and attempting to rationalize the situation. Oh, and BTW, pending patents are just that...pending. Nothing's in the bag and it's not as if the competition doesn't also have a lot in that class.

  15. Turtle

    If I understand Andrew correctly. . .

    Now, if I understand Andrew correctly, then he

    1) Doesn't buy into the MMI-as-a-patent-defense theory, but

    2) Also does not buy into the "closing Android, and building a walled garden to make it like the iPhone" motivation for purchasing MMI; but

    3) Considers Google's purchase of MMI to be a mistake - or worse, a blunder - pure and simple.

    Wouldn't all this taken together make Google's best course of action to be breaking the MMI deal, paying the $2.5bn, and then purchasing InterDigital?

  16. Richard Wharram

    As I said...

    I still think this deal is less about the patent portfolio than forcing Apple to take on Google's fat lawyer pool instead of it's Android partners who will be more easily bullied by Apple. Google could sell the hardware business on in a couple of years after it's had the fight with Apple it wants.

    1. Turtle

      Re: Google's Lawyers

      1) What makes you think that Apple, a corporation with much more money than Google, and *much* more experience in winning patent infringement suits, would be intimidated by Google's lawyers - even if Google's lawyers were armed with MMI's already-proven-to-be-non-deterring patents?

      2) Much more to the point, if Google wanted to help its Android partners against Apple, it would first apply to the judge in whatever litigation is ongoing for permission to intervene - like Apple itself did in the Lodsys case. They could also offer to indemnify their partners, or pay for their defense - neither of which they have done. They would not *start* by spending $12.5bn for MMI and a patent portfolio that has not protected Motorola from Apple, and *then* pay their lawyers to assert these already-proven-to-be-non-deterring patents against Apple. Well, not in the real world, anyway.

  17. Will Godfrey Silver badge


    I am utterly in awe of all the patent gurus and negotiation experts on here.

    Gentlefolk I fall on the floor in erm, laughter?

  18. Syntax Error
    Thumb Up

    chicken egg thingy

    Google should of bought Motorola Mobility before developing the Android OS. Panic buy.

  19. Bobber

    Missing the point

    The ONLY reason I can approve this merger is if Google gets significant leverage in the Oracle infringement suit. So here's my theory. Oracle bought Sun to acquire Java. Sun also had a hardware business that was hot at one time, but lost it. Google want to dangle the Moto hardware group in front of Oracle with the promise that Motorola can get them back in the hardware business (Hey, tablets are hot. Especially those ANDROID tablets...nod, nod, nudge, nudge, know what I mean gov'ner...)

    Yes Google will settle with Oracle by giving them Motorola Hardware AND keep those great compression patents to fend off the iGuys....

    Just my conspiracy theory because Google wouldn't pay $12 billion + right before the have to pay Oracle $x billion in the settlement...

    My 2 cnets...

    1. Dave 142

      oracle tablet

      I think Oracle will release an Android tablet about the same time as Apple release an Android tablet.

  20. nyelvmark

    I smell a computer game

    ...something like Starcraft, except that you can't research a technology if your opponent has already researched it. However, in the end game you will be able to build a law school and completely overwhelm your opponent with mass lawyers.

    1. Curtis


      would that be like a Zergling Rush?

  21. moonoi

    Its about the set top box business

    and the failure of Google TV, the mobile phone and patent stuff is just a red herring, just you wait and see.

    1. soaklord
      Thumb Up


      This is EXACTLY what I was thinking when I saw that they got the set top box business. This allows them to integrate with millions of set top boxes and gives them an in with all the cable companies out there, thus a new advertising venue.

  22. Kevin Hutchinson
    Thumb Down

    Where's the beef?

    There's no real information in this story - just a lot of opinion about the way patent litigation might play out. The most important things are: 1) does Motorola Mobility hold any "platinum" patents that are broad in scope? 2) is this going to help or hinder the other Android phone makers? If Google uses Motorola as a patent shield for Android then it helps the ecosystem for Samsung, HTC, LG, Sony, etc...

  23. Anonymous Coward

    Motorola Patents

    If they were so valuable and could be levegaged against Apple, Nokia et. al. (and, considering in the early days of GSM phones Motorola were a leader I don't dispute it) why on earth haven't Motorola been trying to sue these rich companies to date ?

    1. KjetilS

      Re: Motorola Patents

      Because *some* companies prefer to compete on products instead of misusing the legal system to kill all competitors.

  24. Handle This

    Re: Oh put a sock on it @ 22:39 GMT

    I disagree. Given the author and subject matter, I have just skipped the articles and dove right into the comments. You would rob me of many minutes of pleasure.

  25. Graham Lerant

    The article is based on flawed logic

    What if Google didn't just want patents but acquired Motorola to manufacturer some phones! Is this so implausible?

    1. TeeCee Gold badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: The article is based on flawed logic

      Now that makes sense.

      Motorola make some great Android phones, let down by one major cockup. Update cycles, or rather the lack of them.

      They're stuck in the same rut as most of the other manufacturers, believing that slathering the core OS with their own cruft (Motoblur? I'm looking at you...) to "differentiate" it is the only way to compete. The sticking point here is that porting said cruft to a new OS version for a device that's been superseded or is coming to the end of its cycle is money down the drain[1], so it doesn't get done.

      A Motorola that ditches the cruft development overhead (reducing cost and time to market) and ships updates on the dot (keeping customers happy and possibly drumming up some repeat business) might actually make money.....

      [1] Other industries seem to place a value on customer satisfaction and do this sort of thing anyway.....

  26. Yves Kurisaki
    Thumb Down


    So the writer of this article thinks he knows better than billions worth of top brains.

    I think I'm going to place my bet on Google.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mining for gold amongst the claims

    Assuming at least 3 dependent claims per patent gives you over 64k claims to examine for gold amongst the dross. It would be very interesting to see how Google applies their search wizardry to this.

  28. TeeCee Gold badge

    One more thing.

    ISTR that when Android was in gestation, potential OEMs were wary of being crushed by a "Googlephone", but were reassured by Google saying; "We'll never make phones".

    Subsequently there was a right old hoohah when the first Nexus shipped, but Google assured everyone that it was Ok, 'cos it wasn't *made* by them. Grumbling persisted in the background to the effect that Google weren't exactly playing fair in annointing one OEM's products with Google branding, but everything carried on.

    I assume the deathly silence so far on the Motorola buyout from the other Android phone makers is 'cos they haven't got over the coughing fit from choking on their cornflakes yet?

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