Microsoft and Apple are finding themselves the target of Google's ire following their consortium's winning $4.5 billion bid for Nortel's wireless patents.
Microsoft and Apple are among the
targets of an apparent Justice Department probe into whether a host of former
Nortel Networks patents will be used to attack Google Android.
Earlier this year, the two companies
led a consortium in a winning $4.5 billion bid for the 6,000 wireless
technology patents and patent applications. They were joined by Sony, EMC,
Ericsson and others. Some of Nortel's patents covered the LTE (Long-Term
Evolution) technology used by many smartphones currently on the market, and could
have provided Google the cover it needed to repel intellectual-property
lawsuits from its rivals.
Nortel filed for bankruptcy in January
2009, and began selling off pieces of the company. In April, Google offered
Nortel some $900 million for a broad selection of viable patents, a fraction of
the final price at auction. In July, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Gross, in
Wilmington, Del., and Ontario Superior Court Judge Geoffrey Morawetz signaled
their approval of the deal in a joint session
According to unnamed sources speaking
to the Wall Street Journal
, federal regulators are
examining whether members of the winning consortium are planning to file
additional patent-infringement suits against Android device makers: "The
Justice Department wants to know whether it intends to use [the patents] defensively
to deter patent lawsuits against its members, or offensively against
For its part, Google is already crying
"Microsoft and Apple have always been
at each other's throats, so when they get into bed together, you have to start
wondering what's going on," David Drummond, Google's senior vice president and
chief legal officer, wrote in an Aug. 3 posting on The Official Google Blog
. "Fortunately, the law
frowns on the accumulation of dubious patents for anti-competitive means-which
means these deals are likely to draw regulatory scrutiny, and this patent
bubble will pop."
He went on to claim that the Justice
Department is "looking into whether Microsoft and Apple acquired the Nortel
patents for anticompetitive means." Google is also actively trying to buttress
its own patent portfolio in order to avoid litigation threats in the future.
In recent months, Microsoft has
convinced several manufacturers to pay it royalties on their Android-based
devices, and is currently locked in battle with Motorola and Barnes & Noble
over what it claims are intellectual-property violations in those companies'
use of Android on their mobile devices. Meanwhile, Apple is embroiled in
lawsuits with HTC, Samsung and Motorola over the use of Android technology.
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