Google, under legal siege, seeks Nortel patents

The search company, while reiterating its belief that the patent system is broken, recognizes that it can't be ignored.

Google, eager to strengthen its patent portfolio for a better chance in legal battles, is in the running to acquire 6,000 patents and patent applications from bankrupt Nortel Networks for $900 million in cash.

In an agreement with Google, part of a bidding process open to others as well, the search company would acquire "approximately 6,000 patents and patent applications spanning wireless, wireless 4G, data networking, optical, voice, Internet, service provider, semiconductors and other patent portfolios," Nortel said today. "The extensive patent portfolio touches nearly every aspect of telecommunications and additional markets as well, including Internet search and social networking."

Google couched its announcement of the possible sale in the context of its desire for patent reform.

"The patent system should reward those who create the most useful innovations for society, not those who stake bogus claims or file dubious lawsuits...But as things stand today, one of a company's best defenses against this kind of litigation is (ironically) to have a formidable patent portfolio, as this helps maintain your freedom to develop new products and services," said Kent Walker, Google's general counsel, in a blog post today. "Google is a relatively young company, and although we have a growing number of patents, many of our competitors have larger portfolios given their longer histories. So after a lot of thought, we've decided to bid for Nortel's patent portfolio in the company's bankruptcy auction."

Google's bid for the Canadian telecommunication company's patents has been selected as the "stalking-horse bid," effectively the minimum that other bidders will have to exceed, Walker said.

The search company rose quickly to power and profitability, but as it's expanded into new markets, Google has stepped on more and more toes. Its Android mobile-phone operating system, in particular, is embroiled in many patent infringement suits. One from Oracle is directed at Google itself, but many others involve companies such as HTC and Barnes & Noble that sell Android-powered devices.

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