Earlier this month, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) announced a bid for key wireless-technology patents owned by Canadian telecommunications company Nortel, which declared bankruptcy in 2009. And now, BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) is reportedly looking to outdo Google's $900 million offer.
Bloomberg reports: "RIM, maker of the BlackBerry smartphone, is weighing an offer that would keep Google from gaining control of about 6,000 Nortel patents and patent applications, said the people, who couldn't be identified because the plans aren't public."
Sources claim that "a group of technology companies, including mobile-phone makers," may also join the fray to keep Google from laying its hands on Nortel's patent chest. John Paczkowski of The Wall Street Journal's "Digital Daily" blog wrote last December that Nokia (NYSE: NOK ) , Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) , Google, and RIMM were all participating in the auction.
Patents are everything in the technology industry, and even more so in a sue-happy place like Silicon Valley. Whoever wins the bid gets to control thousands of wireless patents said to be worth an estimated $1 billion. Clearly, there are people willing to pay big bucks to own Nortel's intellectual property as a shield from infringement lawsuits. Google's motivation is unambiguous: The patent portfolio will "create a disincentive for others to sue Google," company general counsel Kent Walker wrote in a blog post.
It's a valid assumption that Apple, the most-sued technology company in the world, would want to outbid Google, RIMM, or whoever else may fight for those patents. Apple has a vast cash hoard of more than $60 billion, and company executives have said a number of times that they were keeping their options open and saving the money for big things -- key acquisitions, if you will -- that would give Apple a significant edge over its competitors.
Apple, like pretty much everyone else in the mobile space, is engaged in legal battles with its rivals -- namely HTC, Motorola (NYSE: MOT ) , and Nokia -- over a bunch of wireless and cell-phone patents. RIMM CEO Mike Lazaridis notably called Nortel's patents in the past a "national treasure." The valuable patents cover key 4G LTE wireless technologies.
Should Apple get them, the company could theoretically seek royalties from everyone else in the industry while creating a disincentive for others to sue Apple, to paraphrase Google's counsel. This might be especially unpleasant for Android handset makers, as Google's open-sourced software is said to be a patent bomb waiting to explode.
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