​Rockstar deal could mark end to long patent war between Google, Microsoft, Apple, and others

A long-simmering patent dispute involving Google and some of its key rivals could finally be over. Today's deal transfers the former Nortel patents to a syndicate of 30 members and comes on the heels of a settlement in a patent infringement lawsuit last month.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor
After three years, a long-simmering patent dispute involving Google and some of its key rivals could finally be over.

The Rockstar Consortium LLC has sold its collection of patents, purchased in 2011 from the bankruptcy estate of Nortel, to RPX Corporation.

That consortium was formed in 2011 by Microsoft, Apple, Ericsson, RIM, Sony and EMC, with the express goal of blocking Google's access to those patents. In total, the group paid $4.5 billion for some 6000 patents.

According to today's announcement, some 2000 of those patents were "distributed to various Rockstar owners and are not part of this transaction." RPX is paying some $900 million for the remaining patents, which will be held by RPX Clearinghouse and added to its collection of nearly 5,000 other patents. That subsidiary will receive license payments from "a syndicate of over 30 companies, including Cisco and Google" and will make the patents available for license to all other interested companies under fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms.

Rockstar had filed eight patent infringement lawsuits against Google and a handful of Android handset makers a year ago. Google agreed to settle those lawsuits last month, paving the way for this deal. Terms of that settlement have not been publicly disclosed.

RPX, which has been in existence since 2008, has earned a reputation as a "defensive patent aggregator," one that makes its living mostly by licensing patents rather than aggressively pursuing potential infringers with lawsuits. The approach has worked well for MPEG-LA, which licenses the patents behind the widely used H.264 and other multimedia technologies. Google and MPEG LA reached a settlement last year in a similar dispute over its VP8 technology.

In a prepared statement, Erich Andersen, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel of Microsoft, called the deal "good news for our industry as it demonstrates our patent system working to promote innovation. We joined Rockstar to ensure that both Microsoft and our industry would have broad access to the Nortel patent portfolio, and we're pleased to have accomplished that goal through this sale and our valuable license to the patents being sold."

RPX CEO and co-founder John A. Amster said the creation of the syndicate "proves once again that our clearinghouse approach can transform the patent licensing process from one dominated by prolonged litigation to one that is transparent, scalable, and provides a rational outcome for licensors and licensees alike."

Editorial standards