Google’s Motorola Takes Its First Big Step

Carl Weinschenk

Motorola Mobility this week made the first big move since its acquisition by Google. The company introduced three phones — the Droid Razr HD, the Droid Razr Maxx HD and the Droid Razr M — for Verizon Wireless.

Many sources, including InformationWeek and PCMag, do a good job of describing the features of the new phones, which seem impressive. In the bigger picture, it is important to consider the introductions in the context of the controversial Google/Motorola Mobility deal.

Google, of course, controls the Android operating system that is used by a majority of the smartphones on the market. That didn’t — and for almost certainly still doesn’t — sit well with manufacturers that depend on the OS. They see Motorola as having an unavoidable favored status.

There is no smoking gun regarding this issue in the introductions, of course. In conjunction with the launch, CNET’s Roger Cheng posted an update with Motorola Mobility’s new CEO Dennis Woodside on the state of things. The passage on the awkwardness of the ownership structure had a “nothing to see here, move on” quality to it:

Google has maintained that it remains a neutral partner to all vendors, including Motorola. Woodside noted that his business gets access to Android code at the same time as the other partners. Motorola is also under consideration for the Nexus program like other partners, but it gets no unfair advantage.

That’s almost certainly so. Any undue influence would likely come in more hidden and subtle ways. By the same token, however, there is no reason to think that anything untoward is going on. To suggest otherwise in the absence of credible evidence is unfair. So the bottom line is that the status quo — discomfort among Motorola’s competitors — almost certainly remains as this important milestone passes.

Things could heat up on the legal front soon, however. Last month, Apple won a major victory against Samsung. The question raised by a story late last month in the L.A. Times is whether Google has better positioned itself in the patent protection arena by buying Motorola Mobility. Analyst Ben Schachter, an analyst with Macquarie Securities, is quoted in the piece:

"The verdict does remind us that the value of Google’s Motorola Mobility remains very much an open question. Thus far, and it is clearly still early, we have yet to see any meaningful evidence that Google’s acquisition of Motorola’s [intellectual property] can protect various players in the Android ecosystem,” Schachter said in a research note. “Additionally, and again it is still clearly early, the combined companies have yet to release any meaningful products.”

Note the last line. If Schachter’s line of reasoning is right, the introductions this week may be the real start of the clock on any action against Google in regard to the Motorola purchase. In other words, if the other vendors truly are feeling squeezed and insecure, attacking Google on the basis of patent infringement — and testing just how airtight the Motorola patents are — would be a good tactic.

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