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Apple, Microsoft, others team up to buy Nortel's mobile tech patents

LOS ANGELES — Nortel Networks' highly coveted mobile tech patents have a new owner, and it isn't Google.

It's Apple and Microsoft, along with Research In Motion, Sony, EMC and LM Ericsson.

The six companies teamed up to buy the Nortel patents as a group, together spending $4.5 billion for a cluster of more than 6,000 patents and patent applications that many consider crucial to the future of mobile computing technologies.

The patents cover wireless technologies used in phones and tablet computers, wireless 4G data transfer, data networking, optical technologies, semiconductors and other highly sought-after patents.

The sale of the patents is a coup for the six-company consortium over Google, which is known for having a weaker patent portfolio than many of its competitors. That gap has left Google's Android operating system, the world's most popular smart phone operating system, vulnerable to lawsuits. And the lawsuits have come for Google, including one by Oracle seeking billions of dollars in a dispute over Android.

Google made a $900 million bid for the patents that was a starting point in the multiday auction, which began Monday.

"Following a very robust auction, we are pleased at the outcome of the auction of this extensive patent portfolio," said George Riedel, Nortel's chief strategy officer and president of business units. "The size and dollar value for this transaction is unprecedented, as was the significant interest in the portfolio among major companies around the world."

The sale is a big one for Nortel, a company dealing with a bankruptcy. The deal is still subject to approval from Canadian and U.S. courts. A decision is set to be made in a joint hearing expected to be held on July 11, the Toronto-based communications company said.

"Nortel will work diligently with the consortium to close the sale in the third quarter of 2011," the statement said.

Florian Mueller, an intellectual property analyst writing for the blog Foss Patents, said he thinks Google could have afforded to spend more than $4.5 billion for the patents, but it didn't, which might show that it's not as committed to Android as many might think.

"No major industry player is as needy in terms of patents as Google," Mueller said.

Buying Nortel's mobile patents wouldn't have solved all of Google's Android patent issues at once, but it could have helped tremendously, he said.

"I'm afraid it won't get a similar opportunity in quantitative and qualitative terms any time soon," he said.

Apple, Microsoft, others team up to buy Nortel's mobile tech patents 07/01/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 1, 2011 10:43pm]
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