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​Apple, Microsoft, Sony sell smartphone patents for $900M

The tech giants finally relinquish their hold on the highly-coveted technology rights, possibly marking the end of a patent fight between Android phone manufacturers and competitors.

Donna Tam Staff Writer / News
Donna Tam covers Amazon and other fun stuff for CNET News. She is a San Francisco native who enjoys feasting, merrymaking, checking her Gmail and reading her Kindle.
Donna Tam
2 min read

An Apple-led group is selling off its portfolio of smartphone technology patents following a settlement with Google and other Android handset makers. James Martin/CNET

Apple and other high-profile tech companies sold 4,000 smartphone patents for $900 million to a clearinghouse, the patents' new owner announced Tuesday, in an effort to put a long-fought courtroom battle behind them.

The Apple-led Rockstar Consortium -- which includes Microsoft, BlackBerry, Ericsson and Sony -- sold the patents, initially purchased for $4.5 billion four years ago, to the San Francisco-based RPX Corp. RDX plans to license the patents to another group of about 30 tech companies, including Google and Cisco Systems, according to a press release.

The deal is expected to end a series of lawsuits -- which effectively pitted Rockstar against smartphone makers who developed Android phones -- around patents for some basic smartphone technology, including navigating through documents, data networking and Internet access.

"Today's announcement is good news for our industry as it demonstrates our patent system working to promote innovation," said Erich Andersen, vice president and deputy general counsel of Microsoft, said in the release. "We joined Rockstar to ensure that both Microsoft and our industry would have broad access to the Nortel patent portfolio, and we're pleased to have accomplished that goal through this sale and our valuable license to the patents being sold."

BlackBerry and Google declined to comment. Apple, Ericsson and Sony did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This could indicate the tech companies willingness to move away from often drawn-out and expensive patent lawsuits. Rights to a patent typically prevent competitors from profiting from a company's original ideas.

Rockstar beat out Google in a bidding war to purchase the portfolio of patents from a bankrupt Nortel Networks in 2011. The consortium used the patents to file suit against Google and Android handset makers Samsung, Huawei and HTC in 2013. They settled the suit last month under undisclosed terms.

(Via the WSJ)