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RIM's bid for Nortel patents is more than a Google block

Research-in-Motion is considering whether it should outbid Google for a portfolio of more than 6,000 wireless patents being auctioned off by the bankrupt Nortel Networks.

Research-in-Motion is considering whether it should outbid Google for a portfolio of more than 6,000 wireless patents being auctioned off by the bankrupt Nortel Networks, two sources told Bloomberg.

RIM may lead a consortium of wireless companies, mostly handset makers, in an attempt to top Google's $900 million bid and block it from acquiring the patent arsenal, reported Bloomberg and others. Nortel co-chief executive officer Mike Lazaridis has declined in the past to comment on whether his company would bid for the assets.

Google established its offer for the Nortel patents earlier this month and indicated it was trying to build up it's patent stockpile to improve its protection against lawsuits.

Related: Google bids $900 million for 6,000 Nortel telecom patents

Wireless makers, including RIM, have said Google was up to more than just defense and expressed concern about allowing the company to amass such a repository of patents.The patent portfolio is broad, including wireless, wireless 4G, data networking, optical, voice, internet, service provider, semiconductors and other patent portfolios. It "touches nearly every aspect of telecommunications and additional markets as well, including Internet search and social networking," Nortel said in announcing the patent auction, and would allow the owner to control and license technology used in Apple's iPhone, devices that run Google's Android operating system and even RIM's BlackBerrys.

There is concern that Google could leverage the patents to gain influence among rivals and grow royalties in the wireless industry, David Mixon, a patent attorney at Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP, told Bloomberg. Most of the speculation about what would motivate RIM to pursue the Nortel patent pool has focused on the desire of wireless companies to play defense and block Google from gaining such influence.

But there is reason to believe RIM may see an offensive opportunity as well. RIM pursued a portion of the patent portfolio once before. In 2009, shortly before Nortel declared bankruptcy, RIM struck what Lazaridis called a "handshake agreement" to acquire Nortel's patents covering Long-Term Evolution (LTE), also known as 4G. The deal later fell apart as did a second deal that was brokered after Nortel declared bankruptcy. Nortel eventually licensed the LTE technology to Swedish networking company Ericsson.

How strongly does Lazaridis feel about these patents? He spearheaded an effort in the Canadian Parliament to block the sale on the grounds of national defense and patriotism. The LTE patents are "nothing short of a national treasure that Canada must not lose," Lazaridis appealed to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Strong words representing a strong desire to do more than just stop another's acquisition.

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