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Google's acquisition of IBM patents may aid its Oracle case

The Web giant adds more than 200 patents and patents pending from IBM, some of which could be used to defend against Android infringement claims by Oracle.

A latecomer to the patent acquisition game, Google continues to accumulate intellectual property rights, picking up more than 200 patents and patents pending from IBM.

According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Web site, Google acquired 188 patents and another 29 patents pending from IBM in a deal recorded December 30. Terms weren't disclosed and both companies declined to comment on the transaction, other than to acknowledge that it happened. The deal was first reported by the Web site SEO by the Sea.

Patents have been a key tool in the battle for smartphone revenue and leadership. But Google, which only entered the mobile phone business in 2007, has found itself vulnerable to intellectual property litigation because of its thin patent portfolio.

That's because Google has instead been largely unable to invoke the common defense for a company accused of infringement: the threat of a countersuit, alleging that its accuser has violated one of its patents. That often leads to cross-licensing deals that keep the companies out of court.

Without its modest patent portfolio, Google has been a target. In the last six months, it's aggressively acquired patents from IBM and others. And Google Chief Executive Larry Page cited the company's desire to build its patent trove as a reason for acquiring Motorola Mobility, in a deal that's still pending.

The newest batch of patents from IBM have only a handful of mobile telephony applications. Instead, they are rich in database intellectual property, including patent 6442548, titled "database interface for database unaware products," and patent 7831632, titled "method and system for reconstruction of object model data in a relational database."

That could be useful in Google's ongoing litigation with Oracle. The database giant sued Google in August 2010 for infringing on copyrights and patents related to Java, which Oracle acquired along with Sun Microsystems earlier that year. The companies have been publicly sparring in a case that's expected to go to trial this year. The database patents could give Google ammunition to prod Oracle toward settling the case, rather than facing a suit over alleged infringement of the IBM-developed intellectual property.

To be sure, there are plenty of other patents in the latest batch acquired from IBM that Google may develop, as well. Some cover language translation and search, areas where Google already has significant intellectual property.

As for IBM, the deal is likely an opportunity to cash in when the value of patents is skyrocketing. Google presents a willing and deep-pocketed buyer to IBM for its massive collection of intellectual property.