Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL), Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and Nokia (NYSE: NOK) are rumored to be among those bidding for Nortel Networks' patents, according to a Reuters report, a sale that could net up to $1 billion for Nortel's creditors. 

Citing unnamed sources familiar with the auction, Reuters reported that final bids for the patents are due within the next few weeks. Nortel's 4,000 patents have been separated into six groupings covering different kinds of technologies, including LTE.

Though key patents are sometimes bought and sold, the sheer volume of patents up for sale make Nortel's auction relatively unique in the wireless industry. Patents represent a key -- although often shadowy -- component of many vendors' businesses, since companies looking to build wireless devices or networks must first obtain licenses to key patents covering the wireless technologies. Indeed, companies like InterDigital and Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM) have made licensing a major part of their revenues.

"It's unusual for an asset like that to come to market," InterDigital CEO William Merritt told Reuters. InterDigital has confirmed it is part of a consortium bidding for Nortel LTE patents that cover a system to increase wireless speed and capacity.

Thus, the possible presence of Google and Apple in the bidding process is notable, and could reflect their desire to gain a more solid foothold in a patent-licensing business that has long been dominated by the likes of Nokia, Motorola (NYSE: MOT), Ericsson (Nasdaq: ERIC), Qualcomm, Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) and other wireless veterans. Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM) has also expressed interest in Nortel's patents.

Indeed, disputes over patent licenses are a common occurrence in wireless. Recent legal battles have pitted Nokia against Qualcomm, HTC against Apple and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) against Motorola, among others.

Nortel filed for bankruptcy early last year, and has since been selling off parts of its business to the likes of Ericsson and others in order to pay back creditors. Nortel's patents are among the last of its holdings.

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