Is Microsoft secretly bidding for Nortel's patents? (And if so, why?)

Summary:There's a report circulating that Microsoft may be among the bidders for Nortel's war chest of 6,000 telecommunications patents.

There's a report circulating that Microsoft may be among the bidders for Nortel's war chest of 6,000 telecommunications patents.

This seems somewhat surprising to me, given last I heard from Microsoft, company officials said they felt no need to bid on the patents which are up for auction. A spokesperson told me in April 2011 that Microsoft already has" worldwide, perpetual, royalty-free license to all of Nortel’s patents that covers all Microsoft products and services, resulting from the patent cross-license signed with Nortel in 2006.”

So what's up with the June 27 SOA World Magazine report that  bidders for Nortel's patents now include Google, Apple, Intel and "two purpose-built syndicates," one of which is led by Microsoft?

I've asked Microsoft whether it is one of the entities bidding on the patents and was told by a spokesperson that the company had no information to share at this time.

It's worth noting that if the Softies are one of the cloaked bidders, it wouldn't be the first time Microsoft has kept its identity secret when bidding for patents. It did the same when it made a bid as part of a consortium for Novell's 800 or so patents. Microsoft's role in the Novell patent-consortium bid came to light via regulatory filings.

Patent expert Florian Mueller said he believed that "there's no doubt they (Microsoft) feel they have nothing to fear from those (Nortel) patents. That said, having ownership of them (together with other members of a consortium) would have additional benefits."

"Microsoft might also believe that up to a certain price those patents are simply a good financial investment for someone who understands the patent monetization business," Mueller added.

Nortel filed for bankruptcy protection in January 2009. The Nortel patents up for auction were said to cover wireless handsets and infrastructure, as well as optical and data networking, Internet, Internet advertising, voice and personal computers In 2007, Microsoft and Nortel announced a wide-ranging strategic partnership. Via that much-trumpeted alliance, the pair committed to take on Cisco by integrating and cross-selling their communications wares and by jointly licensing each other’s IP.

In June, when it looked like Google might be the default victor for Nortel's patents with an alleged bid of $900 million, Microsoft officials told a judge the deal could give the proposed buyer, Google “an unfair competitive advantage.” Microsoft asked for guarantees to protect its patent agreement if Google purchased the patents in question.

Topics: Legal, Microsoft

About

Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network. Got a tip? Se... Full Bio

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