Rockstar Patent Sale Indicates Further De-escalation of Mobile Patent War

Rockstar Consortium, Inc. announced a major patent sale to licensing firm RPX on Tuesday. The company, which is co-owned by Apple, Microsoft, BlackBerry, Ericsson, and Sony, will part with more than 4,000 patents, the bulk of its remaining patent portfolio. The move signals a further de-escalation of the patent wars in the mobile space, because RPX will license the patents to some 30 different groups of companies across the industry.

Loose Change

Rockstar was formed by its member companies to purchase a trove of more than 6,000 patents from bankrupt Nortel in 2011. At the time, it was seen as a major play against Google's Android, though Google was actually invited to be part of Rockstar. As it is, however, Rockstar and Google were competing bidders, though Rockstar won with a final bid of US$4.5 billion.

2,000 of those patents ended up being distributed to members of the consortium. The remaining 4,000-plus were held by Rockstar, whose charter was to extract licensing fees from the mobile industry. As Rockstar was an non-practicing entity (NPE, or patent troll, as we usually call it), Apple essentially muddied the waters of its own battle against the many patent trolls constantly targeting the Cupertino company.

Rockstar sued Google and Cisco, as well as Android hardware makers, but Google settled with Rockstar in November of this year. While that was a significant de-escalation in the battle between Apple and Google, and perhaps even Microsoft and the rest of the industry, the deal with RPX lowers the ante even more.

Rockstar sold the patents for $900 million. It's for roughly 2/3 of the original Nortel trove, though it's only 1/5 of the purchase price. That said, the 2,000 patents parted out to the member companies seem likely to have been more valuable, and Rockstar has already earned hundreds of millions in licensing fees. That makes determining whether or not Rockstar's owners lost money on the venture difficult.

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