Google Inc Chief Executive Officer Larry Page last year said his $12.5 billion bid for Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc would help protect the Android operating system from "anti-competitive threats from Microsoft, Apple and other companies."
Whether Page's bet pays off could be tested Monday as judges with the US International Trade Commission are scheduled to release findings in patent-infringement cases Motorola Mobility brought against Microsoft Corp and Apple Inc.
Motorola Mobility victories may give Google leverage to end the global legal battles over market leadership in smartphones and tablet computers. Apple has accused makers of phones that run on Android of copying unique features of the iPhone, while Microsoft contends it's entitled to royalties from Android phones because of its work on operating systems.
"It would be a positive sign for the acquisition if Google or Motorola can win, or if anyone from the Android community can win a major ruling," said Alex Spektor, a New York-based analyst with researcher Strategy Analytics. "All of these companies are scrambling to use whatever intellectual property assets are at their disposal to put a nick in the armor of their competition."
The six-member commission, based in Washington, has the power to block imports of products that violate any US patent. Motorola Mobility is seeking an import ban of Apple's iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad tablet, Apple TV and Mac computers, and of Microsoft's Xbox gaming system.
Patent lawsuits over smartphone technology have been filed over four continents, with the bulk of the international cases involving Motorola Mobility focused in Germany. Companies are fighting for higher shares of a market that researcher Gartner Inc. said grew 47 per cent in the fourth quarter.
Apple, based in Cupertino, California, had 29 per cent of the US smartphone market in 2011, compared with less than 8 per cent for Motorola Mobility, Spektor said. In operating systems, the Android platform had 55 per cent, Apple had 29 per cent, and Microsoft's Windows Phone had 3 per cent, he said.
Android was introduced on handsets to further Google's advertising business and is provided free to device makers including Motorola Mobility, Samsung Electronics Co and HTC Corp. Apple's operating system, which it developed, is available only on Apple products.
While Google hasn't been named in any of the handset or tablet cases, it's in the midst of a trial in San Francisco in which Oracle Corp claims Google copied the Java programming language to create Android.
Libertyville, Illinois-based Motorola Mobility, which created the consumer market for mobile phones with the DynaTAC 8000X that cost $4,000 in 1983, has a portfolio of more than 17,000 patents. Stofega said there are other benefits to the Mountain View, California-based company owning a handset maker, although Google concedes the patents were a driving issue.
"No matter how it comes out, Google can say 'We're a serious contender; we're not a paper tiger,'" said David Long, a patent lawyer with Dow Lohnes in Washington who specializes in telecommunications. Google "leapt into Android without the intellectual property behind them. This is kind of a way for them to flex their muscles."
More than a dozen smartphone-related cases are pending at the ITC. Apple filed the first cases against HTC Corp after company co-founder Steve Jobs said Android "ripped off the iPhone," according to his authorized biography.
Apple and Samsung have traded cases, with fights in more than 30 countries. The companies on April 16 agreed to have Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook and Samsung CEO Choi Gee Sung meet in an effort to settle their dispute.
Google made its deal for Motorola Mobility after being criticized for not doing enough to protect Android-handset manufacturers from the Apple and Microsoft suits.
"It was clear that the licensees needed Google's help and some patent cover," said Will Stofega, an analyst at researcher IDC in Framingham, Massachusetts. "I don't know if this is the first time a company went out and bought a company just to get a list of patents. This is the future, so people are willing to do crazy things."
Apple lost its case against Motorola Mobility at the ITC, while a judge found that Motorola Mobility had violated only one of seven Microsoft patents. The commission is reviewing that finding.
Motorola Mobility filed the ITC case against Apple in a preemptive strike, and against Microsoft after it was first sued over Android phones and its licensing practices.
While the cases are part of the total battle for smartphones, the Microsoft dispute focuses on the Xbox.
Motorola Mobility contends Microsoft is infringing two patents that cover aspects of an industry standard for video decoding, two for Wi-Fi technology and a fifth over a way to establish communication between the Xbox and its accessories. Microsoft has accused Motorola Mobility of violating its commitment to license the standard-essential patents on "reasonable and non-discriminatory" terms.
In the Apple case, two of the four patents relate to Wi-Fi. The other two are for a way the server tracks which applications are available, and a sensor to determine the proximity of a person's head to the phone so it doesn't accidentally hang up or dial unwanted numbers. The cases were heard by different judges at the agency.
No matter how the ITC administrative law judges decide, the cases probably will proceed to the full commission, which is scheduled to make final decisions on Aug. 23.
"I don't think any of them have patents that are going to be a knockout blow," said Tom Scott, a patent lawyer with Goodwin Procter in Washington, whose firm works with startups in Silicon Valley. "In these kinds of battles, the idea that you're going to do a knockout punch is illusory. It's a mature field, and the patents are more to improvements than to basic structure."
The case against Apple is In the Matter of Wireless Communication Devices, Portable Music and Data Processing Devices, Computers and Components Thereof, 337-745, and the case against Microsoft is In the Matter of Gaming and Entertainment Consoles, 337-752, both US International Trade Commission (Washington).