Will Microsoft try to outbid Google for Nortel's patents?

Summary:In all the stories speculating about who may bid for Nortel's war chest of more than 6,000 telecommunications-related patents, there's one name noticeably absent: Microsoft.

In all the stories speculating about who may bid for Nortel's war chest of more than 4,000 6,000 plus telecommunications-related patents, there's one name noticeably absent: Microsoft.

Google officials confirmed on April 4 that Google would join the ranks of others bidding for the patents that Nortel is putting up for bid as part of its bankruptcy process. In fact, according to a Google blog post, entitled "Patents and Innovation," Google has made the $900 million "stalking horse," or opening, bid, around which others will bid prior to the auction of the patents.

(The back story: Nortel filed for bankruptcy protection in January 2009. There have been previous reports, dating back to the end of 2010, that Apple, and Nokia also are among the bidders for the contents of Nortel's patent coffers. RIM is supposedly interested, too.)

The Nortel patents allegedly up for auction are said to cover wireless handsets and infrastructure, as well as optical and data networking, Internet, Internet advertising, voice and personal computers.

Sounds like the kinds of technologies Microsoft might be keen on, as well. So, what about Microsoft? I asked today if the Softies were throwing their hat into the patent-bidding ring, but only receieved back a no comment.

As we know, most recently from the Novell/Attachmate patent deal, Microsoft is big on buying up patents, even if it has to arrange a secret coalition to do so. The Redmondians have used its patent stash to convince numerous companies to sign intellectual property (IP) licensing deals to head off potential patent lawsuits. In cases where companies refused to sign, Microsoft has sued for alleged patent infringement.

It wasn't all that long ago (2007) that Microsoft and Nortel cemented 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, more interestingly -- by jointly licensing each other's IP.

Update: A Microsoft spokesperson sent me the following statement: "“Microsoft has a 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.”

Yep. ALL. The Microsoft spokesperson said it's not a subset of the patents in question.

(Hmm. I wonder what happens to that agreement once one or more companies buy those patents. I'm asking Microsoft to see if I can get further comment.

Update 2: This is interesting. From the same spokesperson: "Microsoft’s licensed rights to the patents continue, even when ownership of the patents change hands."

If Nokia ends up bidding on and winning some of those Nortel patents, perhaps partner Microsoft will benefit, to some degree, given the pair's own recent partnership. But now that Google's made it clear that it wants those patents, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Softies' interest rise exponentially.... Or not, if they feel they already own IP rights on the patents in which they're most interested....

Topics: Google, 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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