updated 10:40 pm EDT, Wed August 3, 2011
Microsoft says Google could have joined patent bid
(Update: evidence) Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith claimed on Wednesday night that Google had actively turned down a chance to join the Novell wireless patent bid. Responding to a very critical Google open letter accusing Apple and Microsoft of trying to stifle innovation through the bidding and their patent lawsuits, Smith said Google had been offered a chance to bid as a partner. The Android designer had turned it down and effectively sacrificed the patents to its rivals.
"They said no," Smith said bluntly. Google hadn't responded to the statement.
His remarks if accurate imply that the Novell bids, which were won by a CPTN group led by Apple and Microsft, is primarily intended as a defensive mechanism to prevent lawsuits from patent trolls and other, usually smaller firms from suing anyone involved in the coalition. Many have presumed that the group was united with the aim of further suing Google and slowing down the adoption of Android.
Google's seriousness behind the related Nortel bid could also be called into question. Along with decisions to bid 'fun' numbers like Pi rather than commit fully to winning, it might have thrown away a real chance to fulfill its stated goals of making sure patents encourage innovation rather than suppress it. The search firm might have felt bound by the terms of its "stalking horse" bid, which would let it break up any existing patent licensing terms if it won; it would never have had that option in the winning group as companies with Nortel patent licenses, like Microsoft, would have insisted on keeping them intact.
Smith's comment could reduce the likelihood that the ongoing DOJ investigation of the Nortel patent sale works in Google's favor.
Update: Microsoft corporate communications lead Frank Shaw posted an e-mail excerpt that appears to show Google's counsel Kent Walker turning down the offer. Walker had been open to more but dismissed at least an initial attempt.
"A joint bid wouldn't be advisable for us on this one," he said.
The clip isn't complete and doesn't show the message in context. It's unclear as a result whether Google had made any later overtures.