- Neal Wankoff
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Is the Motorola Mobility-Google Marriage Made in Heaven?
Google’s recently announced $12.5 billion acquisition of Chicago-based mobile phone maker Motorola Mobility could be different if Google CEO Larry Page keeps his promise to run the acquisition as “an independent business.” “If you believe what they say, they’re going to leave the company alone and let it do what it has been doing,” said Steven Kaplan, a professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. “If anything, maybe they would move resources here because the tech talent is less expensive and our taxes are lower (than California’s).”
There remains the question of the economic impact of the sale on Chicago’s economy, especially in northwest suburban Libertyville, IL, where Motorola Mobility has its sprawling campus. If Google retains Motorola Mobility’s Illinois workforce, the move will represent a win for the state, giving it the bragging rights that come with being part of one of the world’s wealthiest and most entrepreneurial companies. If Google moves Motorola Mobility to California, it will be a blow to Chicago’s northwest suburbs, where many of Mobility’s employees live.
Motorola Mobility has deep roots in the Chicago area, which go back to the 1928 founding of Galvin Manufacturing Corp. in Chicago. The company, which was rechristened Motorola, pioneered early televisions and two-way radios during the World War II years. Motorola helped lay the foundation for the mobile-phone industry, and demonstrated its original handset in 1973. “Motorola was a pioneer in this business,” said Will Strauss, an analyst at Tempe, AZ-based Forward Concepts Co. “They certainly have a lot of intellectual property. It will certainly level the playing ground quite a bit. It’s going to give them an awful lot to defend Android with.”
One reason for the purchase is the patents that Google will acquire as part of the acquisition. Google pointed to patent disputes as important in its agreement to buy Motorola Mobility. Apple, the iPhone’s manufacturer, and Microsoft, which created Windows Phone software, have targeted phones that run on Google’s Android system. Lacking its own trove of patents to vie with Apple, Microsoft and other companies, Google and its hardware partners were targeted by suits aimed at slowing the adoption of Android smart phones. Adding Motorola Mobility, with 17,000 patents, which has been inventing mobile-phone technology since the industry began, may help Google stanch the onslaught.
“The analogy to a nuclear arms race and mutually assured destruction is compelling,” said Ron Laurie, managing director of Inflexion Point Strategy LLC, which counsels companies on purchasing intellectual property. Google and its rivals “look pretty evenly matched at the moment. Google may have become a patent superpower.”
Google plans to continue to license its Android system to other smart phone makers, such as HTC, Samsung and LG. ”Many hardware partners have contributed to Android’s success and we look forward to continuing to work with all of them,” according to Page. According to analysts, the Motorola deal is likely to help Google expedite its innovation in smart phones and tablets.
Bernstein Research analyst Pierre Ferragu believes the acquisition was “solely driven by the ongoing patent war and is an unambiguous positive for the Android ecosystem. It is in the interest of Google to continue to offer a fully open Android platform with equal access to all manufacturers. For Google, there is much more value in securing a major market share for Android than favoring Motorola against HTC and Samsung,” Ferragu wrote.
Writing in The Business Insider, Henry Blodget predicts that the deal will be a “colossal disaster.” According to Blodget, there are multiple reasons why this venture will fail. “Google is a massive global software company with huge profit margins, genius engineers, extraordinarily high pay scales, and a near-monopoly on the most amazing advertising business the world has ever seen. Motorola is a has-been, low-margin, global hardware-manufacturing business that operates at break-even, has 19,000 employees — 19,000! Motorola, in other words, is a VAST company, one that will increase the size of Google by a staggering 60+ percent. Mergers of this size rarely work well (or smoothly), even when managed by companies that are very experienced at making huge acquisitions (which Google isn’t). Motorola does not have dominant share of the key businesses Google is buying: smart phones, tablets, and TV gadgets. This means it does not have the weight necessary to push anyone around. For example, Motorola only has a small slice of market share (10 percent) in its key business (smart-phones). It’s nowhere in tablets. The only way to make decent money in the hardware business is to have real leverage, and Motorola doesn’t have it. The only thing that Google and Motorola have in common is that they are loosely considered ‘technology’ businesses. This is not enough commonality for a massive merger like this to be a success without heroic integration efforts. (Think AOL-Time Warner).”