The Rockstar patent attack on Google and Co.: Four takeaways

Microsoft watchers should pay close attention to what's happening with the latest spate of lawsuits filed by Rockstar against Google and Android handset makers. Here's why.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

On October 31, the Rockstar patent consortium -- owned by Microsoft, Apple, BlackBerry Ericcson and Sony -- sued Google and a handful of Android handset makers for patent infringement.


The timing of this was interesting: Rockstar filed eight lawsuits on October 31. (Copies of the complaints are going up on FOSS Patents.) News on Rockstar's actions hit just hours after Google announced the release of its Android "KitKat" update and availability of the Android-based Google Nexus 5.

I have to admit that after covering the lead up to the $4.5 billion purchase of the Nortel patents by Microsoft and the other Rockstar backers, I had largely forgotten about Rockstar. But it appears they're poised to have a major impact on the mobile marketspace and those who participate in it.

In reading Ars Technica's and others' write-ups about yesterday's Rockstar patent attack, a few things stood out to me:

* The suits filed today are against Google and seven companies that make Android smartphones: Asustek, HTC, Huawei, LG Electronics, Pantech, Samsung, and ZTE. Most of these companies have signed Android patent-protection deals with Microsoft over the past months. Huawei still hasn't, I believe. The suit against Google filed yesterday focuses primarily on search-engine and advertising patents. (Plus, as Rockstar execs have said, Rockstar is an independent entity and thus can sue at will, even if one of its funders has put its own patent deals in place.)

* These patent cases were filed in the Eastern District of Texas. The US District Court in Eastern Texas is quite familiar to Microsoft, as it is a favorite venue for patent trolls to sue Redmond. Microsoft has tangled in this very court in the past with VirnetX Inc.; Z4 Technologies and i4i. Maybe "patent-licensor" Rockstar will find Eastern Texas to be a natural home for future cases, too.

* Rockstar is staffed primarily with a bunch of former Nortel staff members and management. They have a lab dedicated to reverse engineering communications products to try to ascertain if they can use any of the thousands of patents that the consortium bought from Nortel when it was going bankrupt to sue other companies for infringement.

* The mutually-assured-destruction environment that's prevented Microsoft suing Google directly for Android patent infringement is crumbling. It's now evident Rockstar is one way Microsoft, Apple and other mobile-tech vendors are planning to attack Google indirectly. Another way Microsoft plans to keep tightening the screws, no doubt,  is by continuing to forge Android and Chrome OS patent deals.

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