updated 11:55 am EDT, Mon April 4, 2011
Google makes stalking horse bid on Nortel patents
Google on Monday said it had made a strategic bid on Nortel's patent sale to protect Android. A "stalking horse" bid chosen by Nortel has put a minimum price of $900 million and is meant to discourage patent trolls, as well as anti-Android rivals like Microsoft and Oracle, from making relatively casual bids that let them attack the mobile OS further. Patent law was broken, and either acquiring the patents or forcing the price up was the best way of discouraging lawsuits meant solely to keep a competitor down.
"If successful, we hope this portfolio will not only create a disincentive for others to sue Google, but also help us, our partners and the open source community--which is integrally involved in projects like Android and Chrome--continue to innovate," General Counsel Kent Walker said. "In the absence of meaningful reform, we believe it's the best long-term solution for Google, our users and our partners."
The search giant has an immediate incentive to make a bid for the patents to possibly give it ammunition against Oracle's ongoing Java lawsuit. The case has so far gone against Google with signs that it may have directly lifted Sun code, now owned by Oracle, for the Java engine in Android 2.2 and beyond.
The move would, however, also discourage some of the proxy lawsuits targeted not at Google itself but at those using its software. Apple sued HTC in a relatively limited campaign to stifle Android. Microsoft may be the greater threat as it has engaged in a shakedown campaign to have Barnes & Noble, Motorola, and all other Android device makers pay royalties unless they agree to use Windows Phone as well.
Microsoft's tactics have often involved using a patent deal with another company to make claims without having to actually test the validity of its patents in court. Google may have been prompted to take action in part from the Attachmate-Novell deal. Microsoft ended up backing off, but it had been close to acquiring another set of patents that it would have likely started wielding against Android and Linux device makers to stifle competition.