Google to sell Motorola Mobility (minus patents) to Lenovo


— 6:00 AM on January 30, 2014

So much for the unification of Android hardware and software. Less than two years after completing its acquisition of Motorola Mobility, Google has entered into an agreement to sell off the business—this time to Lenovo.

Google will get $2.91 billion out of the deal, a fraction of the $12.5 billion it coughed up for Motorola Mobility back in August 2011. However, Google will keep the "vast majority" of the business' patents. Google says it intends to use those patents to "defend the entire Android ecosystem."

Here's how Larry Page, Google's CEO, justifies the deal:

We acquired Motorola in 2012 to help supercharge the Android ecosystem by creating a stronger patent portfolio for Google and great smartphones for users. Over the past 19 months, Dennis Woodside and the Motorola team have done a tremendous job reinventing the company. They've focused on building a smaller number of great (and great value) smartphones that consumers love. Both the Moto G and the Moto X are doing really well, and I'm very excited about the smartphone lineup for 2014. And on the intellectual property side, Motorola's patents have helped create a level playing field, which is good news for all Android's users and partners.

But the smartphone market is super competitive, and to thrive it helps to be all-in when it comes to making mobile devices. It's why we believe that Motorola will be better served by Lenovo—which has a rapidly growing smartphone business and is the largest (and fastest-growing) PC manufacturer in the world. This move will enable Google to devote our energy to driving innovation across the Android ecosystem, for the benefit of smartphone users everywhere. As a side note, this does not signal a larger shift for our other hardware efforts. The dynamics and maturity of the wearable and home markets, for example, are very different from that of the mobile industry. We're excited by the opportunities to build amazing new products for users within these emerging ecosystems.

Page doesn't get into more detail, but it's no secret that Google hasn't done much of note with Motorola Mobility since acquiring it. In October 2012, a senior Motorola executive told CNet News, "We're operating as an independent OEM, so there's a firewall between us and the Android team." He added, "We will absolutely be one of the people considered the next time Google delivers its Nexus phone...but we're not going to receive special treatment." Indeed, Google wound up tapping LG for both the Nexus 4 and the new Nexus 5.

According to Page, Lenovo has the "expertise and track record to scale Motorola into a major player within the Android ecosystem." (I guess that means Google does not.) Page also adds that Lenovo intends to keep Motorola's "distinct brand identity," just as they did with the ThinkPad line after snatching up IBM's PC business in 2005.

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