Jack Ellis

Motorola Mobility has filed suit in the Southern District of Florida this week against Apple, accusing the company of infringing six of its patents in the iPhone 4S and iCloud products.

Moto has been embroiled in various suits with Apple, but this is the first since Google’s proposed $12.5 billion acquisition of the company was announced last summer. While that purchase still awaits the seal of approval from US antitrust watchdogs, the takeover agreement reached between the two companies is already in place. One of the clauses of that agreement is that Motorola must obtain permission from Google if it is to initiate litigation.

Though it is certain that Google authorised this action, it is also not unreasonable to believe that Google played a more instrumental hand in this than just providing a rubber-stamp. After all, Google must have known that it would become directly involved in litigation against OEMs and rival OS providers when it agreed to purchase Moto and certainly should have found possible pressure points during its due diligence process. 

As Android’s popularity boomed, so did claims from competitors that it infringed their IP. Handset manufacturers using the Android platform felt frustration at Google’s seeming aversion to offering them assistance in the face of such claims. However, this has changed in recent months. Back in September 2011, for example, Google transferred nine of its patents to HTC, which subsequently used them to launch litigation against Apple. Google patent counsel Tim Porter later stated: “We aggressively stand behind our partners and want to defend the Android ecosystem. I think that transaction was definitely part of that.”

So, why the change in tack? For a company so reliant upon IP and so heavily invested in the wireless device industry, until very recently Google had a surprising lack of patents to its name. During the past year, though, it has made a major effort and spent a lot of money to beef up its portfolio. Although attempting and failing to get any of Nortel’s patents, the internet giant got its hands on Motorola Mobility and several bundles of IBM patents. With its IP house in better order, it seems that Google is more confident about facing competitors in the courtroom.

As Florian Mueller points out, it is now looking increasingly likely that the piecemeal skirmishing between Google and Apple will turn into a head-to-head conflict. With its enhanced war chest, perhaps Google is ready to go on the offensive. Additionally, assertions against its competitors could act as proof that Google’s takeover of Moto isn’t monopolistic. But now that Google has in effect become a proxy plaintiff in Florida, it cannot afford to lose. If it does, more than a few people will begin to question the wisdom of that $12.5 billion purchase.