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Has Google wasted $12bn on a dud patent poker-chip?

Larry Page's Moto bluff fails to convince

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Google's innovations got lost in the Lab

The bigger problem is that Android is blatantly a copycat, but didn't need to be. Google took a shortcut to get into the handset business, making decisions that were largely avoidable. Why didn't Google develop its own language and platform? The company is full of brilliant engineers, many of whom have mobile platform experience, and who have created some of the milestones in computer history. Why not use Go, the language Ken Thompson helped develop? Or something like it? Or less ambitiously, why not use Gtk and build on it, much as Nokia did with Maemo/Meego? You may have heard of one or two of these.

By innovating, and donating the innovation into the platform, Google could have avoided its IP woes altogether. But rather like a super-rich, spoiled child, Google seemed to be unaware of the issues it was getting into, and now thinks it can buy its way out.

Well, maybe it can, maybe it can't.

Just because Android has the look and feel of a knock-off doesn't mean Google will necessarily pay the price in court. IP lawsuits are a crapshoot. Anything can happen. But on an objective analysis you have to say that the odds don't look good for Google, and they don't look much better if the Motorola acquisition goes through for reasons I've explained above. The purchase will leave Google $12.5bn poorer and with indigestion from swallowing one of corporate America's most dysfunctional bureaucracies. (Remember, Motorola was run by three generations of the founder's family – that's about as un-Googley as you can get.)

Earlier I mentioned the obvious flaw of the deal: the golden rule that says platform suppliers don't compete directly with their customers. I'll return to this again, but I wanted to point out that chanting the mantra "it's all about patents" needs a bit of qualification. It might not be about anything, other than a lack of grown-up thinking, and consistently poor executive leadership.

Deal of the Century... for Moto

Hats off again to Motorola's leadership, though. The company has been trying to sell its phone division for over three-and-a-half years – and nobody wanted to know. "Who would buy a loss-making mobile maker?" we asked in 2008.

Moto merely had to whisper to Google: "We can solve your patent woes," and its shareholders were rewarded beyond their wildest hopes. Google's offer price has a huge premium over the market's valuation of what Motorola is worth.

With the right timing and the right sales seduction, it is amazing what the right mug punter can be prepared to pay. ®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

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