Rope-A-Dope, Indeed

Sometimes you want so badly to say “I told you so!” after months of getting kicked in the ass, that you do so without really looking into what you’re writing about. Or even thinking, really.

Such is the predicament Dan Lyons finds himself in today.

The artist formerly known as Fake Steve Jobs wrote the following this morning immediately after hearing about Google buying Motorola:

Everyone was baffled when Google made those crazy bids for the Nortel patents last month. Remember? They bid things like the distance from the earth to the sun, the number pi, and some other wacky numbers from mathematics. Which led ultra Apple fanboy MG Siegler to crow that Google had got “pi in the face” and was “living in a dream world” and “look like huge asses in retrospect.” Then MG went on to drool about how Android was doomed, penning a ridiculous piece that compared Apple to James Bond and Google to La Chiffre, the evil villain in “Casino Royale.”

And today it all makes sense. Google just sandbagged its rivals. The whole thing was a rope-a-dope maneuver. Google never cared about the Nortel patents. It just wanted to drive up the price so that AppleSoft (those happy new bedmates) would overpay. Today, with the Motorola deal, Google picks up nearly three times as many patents as AppleSoft got from Novell and Nortel.

That’s a nice tale. But it’s also a tall tale. It’s writing something to fit an argument, rather than actually looking into it and writing something based on facts.

The Google Nortel patent maneuver was a rope-a-dope? Really? Because you know who didn’t think it was? Google. How do I know that? Because I talked to several people at the company on it over the past few months. People high up, people low down. People on the record, people off the record. 

Google absolutely wanted to win those Nortel patents. This wasn’t like the Verizon spectrum bidding. This time (weird bids or not), Google was in it to win it. And they were devastated when they didn’t. And they were pissed off. And they had every right to be. 

As I laid out in one of the posts Lyons points to, Apple and Microsoft teamed up to screw Google. Considering that Apple and Microsoft had started out as separate bidders in the process, Google did not expect this. As Google CLO David Drummond wrote in his blog post on the matter recently: “Microsoft and Apple have always been at each other’s throats, so when they get into bed together you have to start wondering what’s going on.”

The fact that Drummond wrote that post at all should tell you all you need to know about Google’s feelings on the matter. Things were bad with regard to the patent situation surrounding Android. And with InterDigital in play, they were about to get worse.

Google had to do something. And buying Motorola was one of about a half-dozen things they could have done. It was the swing-for-the-fences option. But it was also the one they knew at least one rival, Apple, wouldn’t touch.

And the deal has some big potential upsides, such as in the broader consumer electronics space, where Google has been struggling with things like Google TV.

Yes, Google and Motorola have undoubtedly been talking for a while. But high-level talks only began about five weeks ago, Om Malik reports. For those keeping score at home, that’s well after Google’s Nortel loss. So much for the rope-a-dope.

Google and Motorola were likely talking earlier about licensing agreements and/or patent buys on top of an outright acquisition. That was a last resort. But it’s one Google decided they had to pull the trigger on. Why? Because as Malik also reports, Microsoft was considering doing the same thing.

I’m sure Google is just fine with Lyons’ characterization of this being some awesome Muhammad Ali-style strategy to kick ass and take names while fooling everyone. I mean, who wouldn’t be fine with that? But that’s just not how this went down. 

Further, Lyons’ statement that Google just “sandbagged” their rivals may be premature. Both Apple and Microsoft already have ongoing patent lawsuits against Motorola itself. These thousands of patents Google just acquired, while important, are not necessarily the full deterrent they need. 

As usual, FOSS Patents has a great breakdown of all of this, if you’re really interested.

As for Lyons’ assertion that Google simply maneuvered the Nortel situation in such a way to drive up the price for their competitors — that’s laughable. If he would look over the court documents for how this played out, he’d see that Google itself bid upwards of $4 billion and at a few points, nearly won the auction for several billion dollars. 

Both Apple and Microsoft (and Google, for that matter) have billions of dollars that really are burning a hole in their pockets. Eventually, they need to figure out how to spend this money. Does anyone think Apple is sweating dropping $2 billion (their reported share) on valuable patents when they have nearly $80 billion in the bank?

But no one should be surprised at a post like this coming from Lyons. As I said, he’s been getting his ass handed to him time after time again over the past few years as a vocal Apple curmudgeon.

Here’s one favorite opening line from a Newsweek piece he wrote last year on “Antennagate”:

I wonder if panic has started to set in at Apple yet. If not, it should. Because today’s hastily called news conference—ostensibly to discuss problems with iPhone 4 and how Apple intends to fix them—only did further damage to Apple’s reputation.

That was in July 2010. Almost exactly one year later, Apple posted their best earnings ever. iPhone sales — the very same iPhone 4 that Lyons dubbed so problematic — were 20.24 million units in Q3, by far a new record. And this is a device that’s now over a year old. And broken, remember?

As Lyons fiddles, Apple isn’t burning, but it is on fire. Maybe he saw the news that they recently became the most valuable company in the world. That sure sounds like a company with a lot of problems. One in “panic”. One that should be listening to Fake Steve.

This all raises the question: over the past two years, would you have gained more knowledge by reading Lyons, or by having your head up your own ass?

Tough call.

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  8. vjl reblogged this from parislemon and added:
    MG tells it like it is, doesn’t pull back the punches, and gets it right.
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