Google is accusing the consortium that outbid it for Nortel’s patents of colluding to weaken its Android OS, a claim the Internet giant may continue to voice as competition for mobile patents grows.
The Mountain View, Calif.-based company’s chief legal officer David Drummond on Wednesday said that Apple, Research in Motion, Microsoft and the other businesses that combined to win the Nortel patent sale effectively imposed a “tax” on Android phones. He added repeated Google’s earlier claims that industry-wide attempts to snap up patents only stifle innovation.
Drummond said in a blog post that the sale marked “a hostile, organized campaign against Android by Microsoft, Oracle, Apple and other companies, waged through bogus patents.”
Rockstar Bidco, as the consortium was called, kept the Nortel patents out of Google’s hands with a $4.5 billion bid, but not before forcing Google to bid up to $3.4 billion for the patents and then teamed up with Intel to place a $4 billion bid. Google had started the bidding with a $900,000 offer that quickly multiplied as other companies joined in.
Google’s complaints against Rockstar may add fire to the U.S. Department of Justice’s probe of the Nortel patent sale. The DoJ is investigating Rockstar’s plans for the patents to determine if the purchase constitutes an antitrust violation by illegally blocking competition.
Drummond, and by extension, Google, maintain the consortium members’ activities are suspicious in light of those companies’ past rivalries with each other and with Google.
“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,” Drummond wrote in a blog post.
He noted the Nortel patent purchase wasn’t the first time Microsoft and Apple teamed up to keep patents away from Google, saying the two bought patents from software maker Novell to block them from going to Google.
Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, denied Drummond’s claims about the Novell situation, saying Microsoft asked Google to bid jointly with them, but the Internet giant refused.
Google has been outspoken about companies that buy patents, saying the practice hinders innovation. But it recently bought about 1,000 patents from IBM to shore up its own holdings and is said to be a bidder for the upcoming InterDigital patent sale.
While Android is powerful in the market, Google may lose patent lawsuits if it doesn’t build up a strong patent portfolio to protect itself from legal challenges. The Nortel patents, which are for wireless technology, could have given Google a large measure of legal protection in the future.
Statements such as Drummond’s will likely become more frequent as companies rush to buy up patents to protect themselves against litigation. Patent rights are a powerful commodity among tech companies as legal battles continue, with holdings protecting companies as well as providing ammunition in court. Major companies like Apple, Samsung and others are currently battling each other over patent infringement.
If Google proves its competitors buy up patents to block competition rather than enhance innovation, such group purchases may continue to come under further federal scrutiny. If this happens, the government may determine that group purchases violate federal antitrust laws and should be outlawed, forcing companies to seek other ways to control the patents so vital for their mobile development.