With all of the attention Google bought for buying Motorola Mobility for its patents, one question that not too many people asked was whether or not those patents were any good. Of course, when you’re dealing with 17,000 patents and the fact that Google has shown no signs of planning to go on the offensive with patent fights, it seems clear that the point of getting this patent portfolio was very much about quantity over quality — mainly to ward off lawsuits from other big companies, with the recognition that somewhere in those 17,000 patents was probably something that the other company infringed upon.
Still, the folks at M-CAM decided to put the Motorola Mobility patent portfolio to the test by using a variety of scoring techniques, and believes that the portfolio isn’t all that valuable, both in the aggregate and at the specific level. It basically found that about 48% of the patents are probably worthless. At the specific level, the company looked at the 18 patents that Motorola Mobility had asserted against Apple, suggesting that these particular patents may be the “stars” of the bunch — but, again, found that nine of those patents were “impaired,” and were unlikely to be very strong or valuable.
The report notes that buying and maintaining dubious patents probably isn’t a particularly good value by itself:
Google is paying $12.5 billion for alleged assets that include a 17,000 patent
portfolio, of which close to half appear to serve as deterrent value alone. The cost of maintaining patents of dubious
quality will be an ongoing and potentially unnecessary liability to Google and its shareholders. Regrettably, close to half
of the portfolio deemed “best” based on previous assertions have substantial weaknesses. Google’s patent stockpiling
initiative appears to be focused entirely on deterrent value rather than on acquiring quality assets. Google shareholders
may take some small solace in the adoption of a multi pronged defensive strategy, but may want to demand higher
quality standards for the assets and liabilities acquired in future transactions.
Of course, if Google’s goal is longer term, it’s possible that this isn’t such a crazy deal. Already, we’ve seen that this acquisition alone has been a key driving force in getting lots of people (and especially the press) to admit that the patent system is clearly broken. Spending that much to get that kind of widespread awareness may be worth it… if it leads to real reform (which is still a big question mark). On top of that, if the quantity of patents has a deterrent value, no matter the quality of the overall bunch, it’s likely that Google will still find it “worth it.” However, the fact that it now needs to maintain these 17,000 patents, where approximately half may have no direct commercial value, really demonstrates (yet again) the massive “tax” of bad patents on companies.