Google Sues Rockstar Patent Group Headed by Microsoft, Apple,

Google took action to protect its Android OEM partners by suing the Rockstar patent consortium owned by Microsoft, Apple, BlackBerry and others.

Google has filed suit in California against the Rockstar patent-holding group on Dec. 23, asking the court to issue a declaratory judgment of non-infringement on seven U.S. patents held by the group that relate to the Android mobile operating system. The move comes after Rockstar recently filed lawsuits targeting Android device makers, including ASUS, HTC and Samsung.

Rockstar is a patent consortium owned by Microsoft, Apple, BlackBerry (formerly Research in Motion), Sony, EMC and Ericsson. It was formed after the group vastly outbid Google and paid $4.5 billion for bankrupt Nortel Networks' portfolio of 6,000 patents in 2011.

Objections were raised by The American Antitrust Institute (AAI). In a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice requesting an investigation into the deal, AAI asked, "Why, in this light, should ANY horizontal collaboration among them (joined by three others with strong portfolios of their own as well) be allowed with regard to the Nortel portfolio, particularly in the absence of any transparent safeguards against anticompetitive effects from it?"

Those themes were resurrected by Google this week, as reported by GigaOm's Jeff John Roberts. In the wake of Rockstar's forming, the group stands accused of casting an excessively broad net to snag the competition and to sour Google's partnerships. While not explicitly described as such by Google, the search giant's arguments paint Rockstar as a patent troll.

"Rockstar's trolling campaign has targeted more than 100 companies, and that Rockstar’s CEO has said that Facebook, LinkedIn and every other tech company is infringing the old Nortel patents," wrote Roberts. The suit asserts that Rockstar met with California-based Android device makers "in order to discourage them from continuing to use Google's Android platform in their devices, and to interfere with Google's business relationships."

The complaint notes that Rockstar "is admittedly a 'patent licensing business' that produces no products, and instead exists solely to assert its patents."

Rockstar's legal maneuvers, argues Google, have "placed a cloud on Google's Android platform." The suit also alleges that the group's actions threatened Google's business and relationships with its customers and partners before specifically calling out effect on sales of the company's own Nexus hardware.

As part of what Google labels "Rockstar's campaign against Android," Rockstar filed suit against Asus, HTC, Huawei, LG, Pantech, Samsung and ZTE on Oct. 31 in Texas.

The companies are accused of infringing, wholly or in part, on U.S. patents (Nos. 5,838,551, 6,037,937, 6,128,298, 6,333,973, 6,463,131, 6,765,591, and 6,937,572) pertaining to "Mobile Hotspot functionality" along with "Messaging and Notification functionality," notes Google's complaint. Other features under dispute include VPN management, mobile user interfaces and integrated message centers.

Google is flexing its legal muscle to protect Android device makers, according to Roberts. "The lawsuit amounts to an effort to shield Asus and other companies that use the open source Android operating system from a legal extermination effort by Rockstar," he wrote.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...