Patent power (part 2) – Google buys Motorola Mobility

Today’s big news is Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility. What is fascinating is the logic for the deal. This is not a deal driven by customers or operating synergies – it is all about Motorola’s patents.

The give-away is the final paragraph of Google’s announcement:

“We recently explained how companies including Microsoft and Apple are banding together in anti-competitive patent attacks on Android. The U.S. Department of Justice had to intervene in the results of one recent patent auction to “protect competition and innovation in the open source software community” and it is currently looking into the results of the Nortel auction. Our acquisition of Motorola will increase competition by strengthening Google’s patent portfolio, which will enable us to better protect Android from anti-competitive threats from Microsoft, Apple and other companies.” – Google

Having failed to acquire Nortel’s patents, this move is all about positioning Google for a series of multi-jurisdictional patent claims and counter-claims coupled with positioning for cross-licensing deals.

It remains to be seen what impact this will have on other parts of the mobile eco-system, but it may heralds the start of the more aggressive use of patents by technology companies – by way of example see Apple’s recent successful blocking of the launch of the Samsung Galaxy Tab in Europe as a result of a German court injunction.

Do more tablets mean more ‘lean-back’ consumer browsing?

Sadly I’ve not been in Las Vegas at CES, but remained at my desk in London reading the various updates.  As the dust starts to settle it seems that tablets are the story of this year’s show.  Not having had the opportunity to personally play with any shiny new toys, I am not in a position to advise readers on whether they should stick with their iPads (works for me) or rush out to buy a Motorola Xoom, Blackberry Playbook, Dell Streak or any one of a large number of new tablets.  Nor am I able to comment on the merits of the various operating systems – Apple, Android, Blackberry or Windows.

However, stepping back from the technology I wondered if this sudden upsurge in tablet offerings, as well as been driven by suppliers wanting a slice of the new category created by the iPad, also heralds a shift in consumer behaviour?  If so, what does that mean for the wider industry?

Shifting markets, one perceived barrier to the take up of streamed IPTV has been the difference between consumer ‘lean-back’ and ‘lean-forward’ behaviour.  Crudely summarised, ‘lean-back’ behaviour is sitting back on the sofa and passively viewing TV, whereas ‘lean-forward’ behaviour is using a PC in an interactive way for social media, web-browsing, email, etc.  The barrier of consumers not (in large numbers) wanting to consume TV as ‘lean-forward’ content, has been one driver behind the creation of ‘over-the-top’ IPTV platforms which deliver streamed video content to TV screens – iPlayer, YouView, Hulu and NetFlicks

The rise of the tablet could be part of a behavioural shift whereby activities which would previously have been ‘lean-forward’, sitting at a PC activities, and instead undertaken in ‘lean-back’ mode.  On a personal level, I have found, post-iPad, that I now spend much  more time connected on my sofa, rather than at my home desk.  If this is right, and the trend is more general, then this could be bad news for desktop PC / laptop PC hardware and software vendors, but good news for TV and console manufacturers as the focus of consumers’ connected world shifts from the home desk to the sofa.