Opinion

Alison Frankel

Nortel IP sale will help Google win OK for Motorola bid

Alison Frankel
Aug 18, 2011 22:43 UTC

Remember the Cold War military doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction? The idea was that if the United States and the Soviet Union both knew the enemy had enough weapons to wipe the entire country off the map, neither would actually use those weapons. Mutually Assured Destruction got the entire world through the age of fallout shelters and Barry Goldwater. So the doctrine should be powerful enough to get Google, Apple and Microsoft past Justice Department antitrust regulators.

It’s a given that Google’s $12.5 billion Motorola bid is going to be scrutinized for its antitrust implications. Google’s law firm on the deal, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, has conceded that point; the firm announced that David Gelfand – who previously escorted Google unscathed through antitrust reviews of its DoubleClick and AdMob acquisitions — will be antitrust counsel on the Motorola bid. The $4.5 billion acquisition of Nortel’s intellectual property by a consortium led by Microsoft and Apple is already under review by the DOJ’s antitrust division. I’m betting that each patent plays will have an easier time passing regulatory muster because of the other.

Before I get to why, there’s the issue of which agency will be investigating the Google deal. Both the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department have the power to conduct premerger antitrust reviews. They’ve both looked at Google acquisitions in the past: the FTC green-lighted the 2007 DoubleClick and 2010 AdMob deals; the DOJ rejected Google’s proposed advertising partnership with Yahoo in 2008 and approved, with some modifications, its deal with ITA Software in 2011. The FTC is also reportedly conducting a widespread antitrust investigation of Google’s search engine business. But I have it on good authority that the Justice Department will be handling the Motorola review, partly because DOJ has historically overseen competition in the telephone industry and is already reviewing the AT&T merger with T-Mobile and the Nortel IP sale.

Traditionally, antitrust regulators look at deals as either horizontal or vertical acquisitions. The classic horizontal deal is a merger of two rivals in the same market. A vertical acquisition is one that helps a company with its own upstream or downstream products. Vertical deals are considered less of a threat to competition within a market, so they get less antitrust scrutiny. In one regard, Google’s Motorola acquisition is a simple vertical merger, since it puts Google into two businesses it wasn’t in before: manufacturing smartphone handsets (and set-top devices) and licensing patents.

But IP complicates the traditional horizontal-or-vertical analysis, because patents, by their very nature, are intended to squelch competition: patent holders have a short-term monopoly on their invention. If you’ve paid even the slightest attention to the patent-bound technology industries, you know how viciously patents can be wielded for anticompetitive purposes, particularly when end products like computers and smart phones are covered by hundreds of patents. The FTC conducted hearings in June (here’s the transcript) on what it calls “patent hold-up” — the ability of a patent owner to extract big licensing fees for IP that’s just part of a sophisticated tech product.

Microsoft beats Google in Motorola fight

Alison Frankel
Aug 16, 2011 22:42 UTC

Monday was mostly a good day for Google and Motorola. Unless you’re on vacation where there’s no Internet access, in which case you’re not reading this, you’re surely aware that Google announced its $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola, which means that Google is picking up one of the best patent portfolios in wireless history — and supposedly had the pleasure of besting Microsoft in doing so. But the news wasn’t all good for Google and its new best friend, Motorola. Deep down in the patent litigation trenches at the U.S. International Trade Commission, Administrative Law Judge Theodore Essex denied Google’s high-profile, third-party motion for sanctions against Microsoft in Microsoft’s infringement suit against Motorola.

Okay, so it’s not exactly on a par with the $12.5 billion deal. It’s a little humbling, though, for Google and its lawyers at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan. As I mentioned yesterday, Google filed an Aug. 10 motion for sanctions in the Microsoft ITC case, claiming that Microsoft violated a confidentiality order when it disclosed Google code to one of its experts without informing Google. (The ITC proceeding, in case you hadn’t figured it out, involves Motorola products that employ Google’s Android operating system.) Google asserted that when it found out what Microsoft planned to disclose, in-house lawyer Matthew Warren emailed a Microsoft lawyer to request a conference. Microsoft, according to Google, didn’t respond. Google then filed the sanctions motion.

But Judge Essex said Google rushed to judgment. The ground rules in the case, in which just about everything is (frustratingly) shielded by the confidentiality order, say that any party that objects to another’s use of confidential materials has to make a good-faith effort to resolve the dispute, and then must wait two days before filing a motion for sanctions. “The ALJ finds no basis to discern from Google’s statement whether Google made a reasonable, good-faith effort to resolve the matter with Microsoft,” Judge Essex wrote. “The ALJ notes to Google failed to attach the Warren email to its motion and it is unclear whether Google even notified Microsoft of its intention to file the instant motion.”

Google’s Motorola deal is good news for Quinn Emanuel

Alison Frankel
Aug 15, 2011 19:00 UTC

There are all sorts of questions out there about Google’s $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility. What will the deal mean for HTC and Samsung, the other cellphone makers using the Android platform? Will the merger force Microsoft to make a bid for Nokia? And is Carl Icahn, Motorola’s biggest shareholder, finally satisfied? I’ll leave it to others to ruminate on all that. I’m interested, as always, in what this deal means for lawyers.

The one clear answer is that a union between Google and Motorola is a good thing for Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan.

Quinn’s Charlie Verhoeven and his patent litigation team are favorites of both Google and Motorola in the smartphone wars. With Google’s endorsement, Quinn has been representing both Samsung and HTC in high-stakes litigation against Apple; Quinn got those assignments after amassing an impressive collection of patent trial wins for Google in the Eastern District of Texas. (Even Verhoeven and Google can’t win ‘em all; I reported in May on a $5 million verdict against Google in the Bedrock patent trial.)

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