Last month, Google bid $2 million for the patents of the now-defunct micro-cell phone company Modu, fueling speculation as to just what Google's plans would be with that intellectual property. Today, it was announced that the bidding process for the last remnants of Modu's legacy had ended, and Google was the winner (albeit by a narrow margin of $10,000), with a final offer of $4.9 million.
If you've never heard of Modu before, don't worry - the company came out of Israel, and was generally unknown to most of us in the US-of-A until it started having financial troubles. Modu was famous for developing extremely small smart/featurephones (like the little guy in the thumbnail), a market that all but dried up in the US by the time Modu was founded in 2007. Modu's major innovation was probably the company's "jackets," which allowed you to take the small "core" Modu device and slap into various docks (the jackets) to unlock additional features, memory, or software.
So why is Google interested in buying up Modu's patents? It's almost certainly Android-related. Google has faced a veritable army of litigants in the United States seeking to assert patent infringement claims against the Android operating system, like the now infamous Oracle suit. Companies like Modu often get away with patenting technology that larger companies would either (a) never think to, or (b) would be denied simply because of the added scrutiny that comes with filing patents as a much larger company.
It's quite possible Modu possesses some fairly broad patents regarding phone interfaces or user interaction methods - things that could have huge litigation value were they to fall into the wrong (read: patent trolls) hands.
Alternatively, Google could be interested in actually using some of Modu's patented tech - we just don't know at this point. But, more than likely, these patents will occupy a few bank boxes in a storage room and a few gigabytes on a server farm, never to be seen again.