U.S. OK’s Google Bid for 6K Nortel Patents, Apple Interested

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The U.S. Department of Justice has given Google the go-ahead to bid for some 6,000 patents being sold as part of Nortel’s bankruptcy proceedings. The DoJ had been reviewing the bid for antitrust concerns, according to The Wall Street Journal, but that review found that Google owning the patents wouldn’t present any anticompetitive concerns. The article also said that both Apple and Research in Motion have approached the DoJ about their own possible bids.

The Nortel Pie

The patents cover a wide range of technologies, including Wi-Fi, some social networking patents, and patents related to the LTE, the misnamed 4G wireless network that is being deployed in the U.S. by most of the major wireless carriers.

Microsoft, AT&T, Verizon, and HP had all filed objections to the very sale of the portfolio based on the notion that the winner would have an unfair advantage in the bloodsport known as patent litigation. For its part, Google has said that it needs the patents to bolster its defense against such suits. As a young company, Google doesn’t have all that many patents to its name.

The DoJ, however, brushed off the concerns of the complaining companies, finding no cause for fear in the patents landing in one company’s lap, including Google’s.

The bidding begins next week, and Google’s opening bid is US$900 million. It is not yet known if Apple is going to join the fray. With one of the largest cash hoards on the planet, the iPhone and iPad maker could splash around as much money as it wanted if it is serious about getting this portfolio,

Nortel was once a technology powerhouse, and the company was even a contender for buying Apple in the dark days of the the early-mid 1990s when the company was looking for a buyer. The firm declared bankruptcy in 2009, however, and the process of selling off its extensive patent portfolio has been an ongoing one. We first reported that Apple and Google were interested buyers in December of 2010.

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The DoJ had been reviewing the bid for antitrust concerns, but that review found that Google owning the patents wouldn?t present any anticompetitive concerns.

Oh really? So does that mean that Apple can rest assured that Google won’t use any of their 6000 patents as ammunition in a patent dispute with Apple further down the road?


In this context, “anticompetitive” really means having a monopoly position. So what I understand DoJ to be saying here is that the acquisition of Nortel’s patent portfolio would not give Google a patent monopoly on certain technology areas.

Google could certainly use the patents in a patent dispute withe Apple or, more likely in my view, Microsoft. But that’s not the same thing as the acquisition itself being “anticompetitive”.

This of course is not Legal Advice. If you need that then you should retain your own Lawyer.

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