Google has apparently decided that buying Nortel's patents could be strong repellant against patent trolls.
Citing the need to defend itself against "dubious" patent lawsuits, Google today announced it had placed an opening bid of $900 million for Nortel's patent portfolio. In a post today on Google's official blog, Google senior vice president and general counsel Kent Walker said that buying up the patents represented one of Google's "best defenses" against what he described as frivolous intellectual property lawsuits. Walker said that Google's $900 million bid had been selected as the stalking-horse bid, meaning that it will be the baseline that competitors will bid against prior to the auction.
"The tech world has recently seen an explosion in patent litigation, often involving low-quality software patents," Walker wrote in justifying Google's decision to further bolster its IP portfolio. "The patent system should reward those who create the most useful innovations for society, not those who stake bogus claims or file dubious lawsuits."
Walker also suggested that buying up the Nortel patents were really only a second-best option for Google and reiterated the company's advocacy for "real patent reform" that would "benefit users and the U.S. economy as a whole."
Google, Apple and Nokia have been rumored as potential suitors for Nortel's 4,000 patents, which are slated to be sold off at a bankruptcy auction this year. The patents cover a wide range of technologies, including wireless handsets and infrastructure, optical and data networking, Internet, Internet advertising, voice and personal computers.
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 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, Verizon, Motorola, RIM, Nokia, Sprint and Qwest, among others.