March 28, 2012
Have you been holding off on buying Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) shares simply because Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL ) might scuttle the good ship Android? If Larry Ellison had his way, Android devices would either be illegal to sell at all or heavily taxed by their debt to his acquired Java code. Either way, you might as well just give up on Android and any hope that Google will succeed in the mobile era. Far smaller issues have put serious pressure on tech stocks before; I'd imagine that Google shares would trade considerably higher if this threat were removed.
That dark cloud is about to melt away.
The fight over Google's alleged infringement on six of Oracle's patents has been reduced to cover just two patents. Judge Paul Grewal has ordered the companies to try to hammer out a settlement rather than waste the court's valuable time. And Oracle's claims to more than $6 billion in damages is shriveling fast. First, Oracle lowered its sights to just $100 million or so, and Oracle's own expert sees a maximum award of $37.5 million.
Now Big G wants to send an even smaller $2.8 million check to Ellison along with a very affordable royalty rate on future Android revenues that adds up to 0.515% of Google's Android sales. It's unclear whether we're talking about over-the-counter retail price tags here or just whatever revenue trickles back directly to Google itself, but either way, it's not exactly a goldmine.
Whether the companies settle or go to trial, I'm no longer worried that Oracle will hamstring Google's mobile future. While I'm no laywer, I do feel pretty good about my personal track record in predicting patent lawsuit outcomes:
- I bought TiVo (Nasdaq: TIVO ) shares based on how briskly the company was moving toward victory in several crucial court cases. With three down and one to go, TiVo's transformation into a software and technology wrangler is almost complete, and my shares are up a market-beating 36%.
- Micron Technology (Nasdaq: MU ) never looked guilty to me when Rambus (Nasdaq: RMBS ) accused it of trampling on memory patents and anticompetition laws. Again, I bought shares and beat the market when a grand jury agreed with my conclusions.
I can't say for sure that Google will walk away from the Oracle dust-up unscathed, but it's starting to look good. Android is an important platform in the mobile revolution, and I'm pretty sure Google will keep it that way.