The word is out that CPTN Holdings is more than Microsoft. It's a joint effort from Microsoft, Apple, EMC, and Oracle. What does this motley collection have in common? Google.
CPTN Holdings came to light as part of the package deal to buy Novell's patent portfolio, and then some. According to filings, CPTN is poised to pick up nearly 900 patents from Novell — which is interesting, since Novell is only indicated as the owner of just under 500 patents when doing a USPTO search.
At first, it looked like CPTN was just a front for Microsoft. It turns out, CPTN is actually a partnership of Apple, EMC, Microsoft, and Oracle. If that sounds like an odd quartet, it is. It's news when Apple and Microsoft cooperate on much of anything these days, and you really don't hear about Microsoft and Oracle being warm and fuzzy together. In fact, Microsoft and Oracle compete on just about every level except hardware, consumer operating systems, and game consoles. Microsoft has more or less stayed out of the hardware market, but it's competing with Apple when it comes to gaming (iOS vs. Xbox), and in the mobile market. OK, Microsoft isn't really competing with Apple in the sense of actually giving iOS any competition with Windows 7, but it's the thought that counts, right?
EMC is the parent company of VMware, which is competing with Microsoft fairly fiercely, and EMC and Oracle compete on a number of product lines like storage and content management. Apple and Oracle — they really don't compete in many areas, and I'm sure Larry Ellison and Steve Jobs would be happy to evenly divide up the tech industry neatly between consumer and corporate markets.
The bottom line is that these are not companies that typically work together. My friend Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols asks the question:
As for the patents, Microsoft, EMC and Oracle will all find good uses for them, or at least, can avoid lawsuits based on them. And Apple? Darned if I know what they’re doing in this deal. Any guesses? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
Yes, I have a guess — it's Google. Rather, Apple, EMC, Microsoft, and Oracle have teamed up to chip in on patents they can use against Google. Each of the companies has a stake, or several stakes, in trying to keep Google out of markets they want to own. EMC, Oracle, and Microsoft all have threats from Google in cloud services for the enterprise. Google's made no secret of trying to expand Google Apps into an enterprise player and as an development platform. Microsoft and Apple are fending off threats from Google on the desktop and mobile market. Microsoft is trying to compete with Google in search and ads. Apple is trying to compete with Google for the mobile ad market. Microsoft, Oracle, and Apple (to a lesser extent) all compete with Google in the office suite market.
The short of it is, Google is doing too much in too many markets for the existing giants to let it continue unstopped. At this rate, Google could be the next Microsoft, and none of the CPTN foursome want that.
It's too bad we don't have any "wikileaks" for the discussions that prompted the companies to work together to buy Novell's patents. I suspect they'd make for very interesting reading. Google had better hope for a massive patent portfolio under the Christmas tree. If this deal goes through I suspect the Oracle suit against Google for Java is going to be the first of many.
Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier is a freelance writer and editor with more than 10 years covering IT. Formerly the openSUSE Community Manager for Novell, Brockmeier is a longtime free and open source software advocate. He has written for many publications, including Linux Magazine, Sys Admin, Linux Pro Magazine, IBM developerWorks, Linux.com, CIO.com, Linux Weekly News, ZDNet, and many others.