Google stalking Nortel patents

Lots of companies have lusted after the patents Nortel Networks built up over the years. Google has become one of them.

The search engine giant said Monday that it has placed a U.S. $900 million opening bid for the intellectual property (IP), believed to be one of the most valuable of assets in the telecommunications company’s vaults since it went into bankruptcy protection in 2009.They include patents covering wireless handsets and infrastructure, as well as optical and data networking, Internet, Internet advertising, voice and personal computers.

Although Google unsuccessfully bid on 700 MHz spectrum in the U.S. and has talked about getting unlicenced wireless spectrum there, an industry analyst doubts the Nortel move has anything to do with it becoming a wireless carrier.

“Intellectual property is a key weapon in the competitive wars between technology companies, and Nortel certainly has some great IP,” said Duncan Stewart, director of technology, telecommunications and media research at Deloitte Canada.

“The fact that it is Google is marginally surprising.”

In a post on Google’s official blog, senior vice-president and general counsel Kent Walker explained that going after Nortel IP represented one of Google’s “best defenses” against what he described as frivolous intellectual property lawsuits.

Like others who have bid on Nortel assets, this is a so-called “stalking horse” bid under Canadian bankruptcy rules, which sets the floor for an auction to be held in the coming months.

Bidders would likely include telecom equipment and handset makers such as Ericsson, Nokia, Nokia Siemens Networks, Alcatel-Lucent and perhaps China’s HTC and Huawei Technologies.

Stewart expects the ultimate winner will pay significantly more than the opening bid.

IP lawsuits are common in the industry – Research In Motion lost a mammoth one in 2006, and last year Oracle flung one at Google over Java. Indirectly, of course, Google is in wireless by supporting the Android mobile operating system.

Google and other high-profile tech companies have been frequently targeted for alleged intellectual property law infractions in recent years. Just last month, Google’s Android mobile operating system was at the center of a patent dispute in which Microsoft Corp.alleged that Barnes & Noble’s Android-based Nook e-readers violated several of its patents. Google at the time said that “sweeping software patent claims like Microsoft’s threaten innovation,” although the company declined to say whether it would offer support to the defendants. 

Other big-name patent suits that have been filed over the past few years include Nokia’s suit against Apple for allegedly infringing on Nokia patents with its iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch devices; Kodak’s suit against Apple and Research In Motion for allegedly infringing upon its digital imaging technology; and a suit by patent-holding firm Minerva Industries against 33 different mobile companies for allegedly violating its patent for the smartphone.

The Minerva suit raised some eyebrows after the company filed suit against 33 companies on the very same day the United States Patent and Trademark Office granted it a patent for a “mobile entertainment and communication device” that has “a cellular or satellite telephone capable of wireless communication with the Internet.”

Minerva eventually settled its suit with the companies, which included Apple Inc., Verizon Wireless, Motorola, RIM, Nokia, Sprint-Nextel Corp. and Qwest, among others.

 (With files from Brad Reed, Network World U.S.)

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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