Motorola Reminds World That The Best Patent Defense Can Be A Good Offense

Google (NSDQ: GOOG) has enough of a headache dealing with the painful situation involving Android and the pace at which its partners are being sued for patent infringement. But imagine if members of the Android community turned against each other over patents, something that Motorola (NYSE: MMI) Mobility CEO Sanjay Jha appeared to threaten Thursday during remarks at a financial conference.

Jha made a note during Motorola’s last earnings call–which showed it struggling to keep up with other Android partners like Samsung and HTC–to emphasize Motorola’s patent portfolio. Given that it’s the company that invented the mobile phone, Motorola has an arsenal of mobile patents that other Android partners probably can’t match, which is one of the reasons why it has chosen to fight Microsoft and Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) in court as opposed to settling or signing licensing deals.

But Motorola may not be thinking solely about defense when it comes to those patents. As noted by Unwired View, Jha appeared to send quite a signal at the Oppenheimer & Co. technology conference in Boston when asked to explain how Motorola would differentiate itself. A replay of his comments is available here, but this is the pertinent section as transcribed by Unwired View.

I would bring up IP (intellectual property) as a very important for differentiation (among Android vendors). We have a very large IP portfolio, and I think in the long term, as things settle down, you will see a meaningful difference in positions of many different Android players. Both, in terms of avoidance of royalties, as well as potentially being able to collect royalties. And that will make a big difference to people who have very strong IP positions.

It’s possible that Motorola could be talking about the ability to extract royalties from Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) and Apple as part of countersuits against those companies. Apple agreed to pay Nokia royalties in a similar case settled earlier this year, and Motorola could be reminding investors that it is the only Android vendor who could potentially pull off the same trick if the ITC decides that Motorola’s patents are valid and cover products made by either company.

But the weakest patent position in the market at the moment is held by HTC and Samsung, which is why they are being targeted on all sides. Google doesn’t have a mobile patent portfolio of its own to extend to Android licensees, which is why it tried to purchase Nortel’s patents and is believed to be courting Interdigital quite aggressively.

Motorola doesn’t need as much protection, and therefore might be convinced to start playing patent offense in order to hedge against the possibility that Samsung and HTC are poised to corner the Android market. Such saber-rattling only raises the stakes for Google to figure out some way to extend patent protection to its licensees, who are otherwise exposed to these sorts of tactics and may have to consider alternative operating systems to avoid getting sucked into such a legal mess.