The selling of Nortel patents: IP value ain't over until it's over

Nortel, the bankrupt Canadian telecom company, came closer to disappearing this past week with the sale of 6000 patents to the consortium that includes Apple, EMC, Ericsson, Microsoft, RIM, and Sony. This consortium had a lot of money ($100 billion in cash) to throw at the auction.  But Bob Cringely (Cringely on Technology) feels that the consortium felt this was a must-win situation, at any price.

After withdrawing his firm from bidding after the initial round, RPX Chief John Amster also agreed. ‘It’s clear this was something big companies with humongous balance sheets had decided was strategic for them,”  he said.

Google was a losing bidder here, even though they have less IP in the mobile and telecom field and probably need this IP more than their other competitors.  While the consortium’s win can be perceived as a death knell for Google’s Android, IPVW strongly agrees with Cringely—Google has the inevitable anti-trust lawsuit, and other routes, to delay and defer restrictions on their growth in this market.

Cringely also alerts IPVW readers to a story that has yet to be told: how will the IP spoils from the patent auction be divided. He’s got a good point—the benefits of “sharing” this IP vary by participant and likely mean:

  • Some consortium members will surely get patents
  • some royalties
  • others freedom from having to pay royalties
  • some get tax breaks from their investment in the consortium
  • some get extra protection from Android
  • some strengthen their partnerships with other members of the consortium

—all creating different opportunities, competitive threats, and perhaps future lawsuits.  In other words, Nortel’s IP, at least, will live on long after the company is a footnote to business history.