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

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.

TOPICS: Google, Legal, 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


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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

    again; just reiterates MSes lack of mobile urgency. why don't they just forfit? this is beyond aggravating.
    • RE: Will Microsoft try to outbid Google for Nortel's patents?

      I would rather them take their time and come up with something more appealing than the Ipad (which has potential) and bad Android tablets that gets over hyped because of the high specs but terrible software. Just be patient.
    • RE: Will Microsoft try to outbid Google for Nortel's patents?

      Why does it aggravate you ? Do you cheer for MS like a football team, political party or religion.

      Life is short - no need to be tribal.
      Plenty of other great companies that will choose to innovate.
  • Already have a WhammerBammer

    Patents have become like magic weapons in some real-world first-person shooter. Once you have a hammer that flies at the speed of light and a gun that shoots lightning bolts, you can pretty much ward off all threats by promising to countersue anybody who sues you.

    Microsoft already has a bunch of weapons. They may want more, but they probably don't need them.

    Google needs them.
    Robert Hahn
  • On defense of Google

    I have a lot more confidence in Google than in Microsoft. If Microsoft buys the patents, they will use them as a hammer on Linux. Their message? "Use our software and nobody gets hurt."

    Google? They have already stated quite plainly that they will use them defensively. They understand that when a patent owner or inventor sues for patent infringement, they are indicating that they failed to execute and would like a share of the proceeds from someone who *did* execute and did it well.

    It won't surprise me to see some "stealth" front organization for Microsoft bidding on those patents. Microsoft seems to know more about marketing than execution these days.
    • RE: Will Microsoft try to outbid Google for Nortel's patents?


      Confidence in Google? That is a joke. Google makes all their money from advertising. And, they target their advertising based on the database they have built on all their users. The only reason they built apps like Android and Chrome was to expand their ability to spy on their users. These patents just give them some bargaining chips in the battle to propagate their spyware.

      You think Google is safe. Just look at all the fuss that is happening because Epsilon's email servers were hacked. Google has far more personal information on far more people around the world than any other company. Just wait until they get hacked, or more likely, some employee decides to sell some information for a few million dollars.

      As for Microsoft and Apple, they have different business models to make money, and both make plenty. Their existence does not depend on spying on their customers.
      • RE: Will Microsoft try to outbid Google for Nortel's patents?

        @jorjitop When it comes to open standards and patents, I trust Google far more than Microsoft or Apple.
    • RE: Will Microsoft try to outbid Google for Nortel's patents?

      These are telecommunications, cellular and networking patents. What has that got to do with Linux?
      • RE: Will Microsoft try to outbid Google for Nortel's patents?

        @dazzlingd Whether these patents have anything to do with Linux or not, Microsoft will make them into a marketing ploy to get carriers to avoid using Android running on Linux. The basic philosophy of Microsoft is "Just use our software and nobody gets hurt."
  • Message has been deleted.

    Linux Geek
    • MS is not BROKE!!!

      @Linux Geek

      they have 30 billion in cash....
      • huh?

        maybe in Nigerian currency.
        M$ had to borrow money even for a few million dollar aquisitions.
        Linux Geek
    • How is M$ broke?

      They make much more money than Google.
      Michael Alan Goff
    • RE: Will Microsoft try to outbid Google for Nortel's patents?

      @Linux Geek
      Again why are you guys even answering this guy/girl
      • Because people like picking on the dimwitted

        as sad as that is.
        Will Farrell
  • Maybe MS already has rights to them from their Nortel partnership

    So they dont need to bid for them. They would only need to out bid google if they didn't have them already or other patents covering other means to the same ends...
    Johnny Vegas
    • RE: Will Microsoft try to outbid Google for Nortel's patents?

      @Johnny Vegas
      I think you are totally right.
      Ram U
    • Google free to use MS patents?

      @Johnny Vegas
      I am with you.

      But then the question is - since it was a cross-licensing deal does that mean that Google will be also free to use Microsoft patents?
      Solid Water
      • Most likey they will not be allowed

        @Solid Water
        as these deals are written in a way that does not allow it, with agreements in place to stop just that

        In this way company "A" can not increase the value of their patent by including a licensing agreement from company "B".

        It also stops "A" from doing what you call "an end run" around giving "B's" patent to company "C" as "B" may not want "C" to have it.

        On the other hand many agreements are written where company "B" can continue to use to use "A's" patent even after the sale to "C", as in would not make finacial or business sense to sign the agreement without those safegaurds in place, otherwise thei investment in "A's" patents could be wiped away the following month should "A" sell those patents.
        Tim Cook
  • what about the flip side?

    Does this mean that whoever purchases the patent rights also gets the licensing for the MS patents that nortel previously enjoyed? Is there any info on how extensive the microsoft patents were that nortel gained access to?