Google’s Bid For Nortel’s Patents Upheld By DOJ; Auction Set For Next Week

"Patent Thicket" of Smartphone Lawsuits

Google’s initial bid for a treasure trove of mobile patents has been cleared by the Department of Justice according to a report, paving the way for an auction that could set the tone for future mobile patent battles.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that after an initial review, Google’s “stalking-horse bid” for Nortel’s mobile patents in a bankruptcy auction won’t pose any anticompetitive threats to the mobile industry, according to sources “familiar with the matter” presumably involved in an antitrust review at the federal level. Nortel is trying to assuage creditors by auctioning off over 6,000 mobile patents, and Google (NSDQ: GOOG) announced in April that it had bid $900 million as a starting point for an auction that is expected to take place next week.

It’s rare that such a block of patents would come on the open market, and as such has attracted all kinds of attention from the mobile industry, where many of the key players are suing each other over patent issues. Now that Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) and Nokia (NYSE: NOK) have settled their differences, resulting in Apple licensing patents from Nokia, there’s a school of thought that Nokia would turn to Android next as a target for patents that Apple has now legitimized by coughing up licensing fees.

Google is no stranger to scrutiny from antitrust regulators, but in the mobile-patents world it’s thought to be a good actor because it is believed to be seeking the Nortel patents for defensive purposes, as opposed to a company that is trying to obtain the Nortel patents as to assert them against other firms. Several mobile companies are suing Android partners for patent infringement, and Google itself faces a patent lawsuit from Oracle over Java.

Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) and others have objected to the Nortel patent sale, and have also sought to ensure that existing cross-licensing deals signed with Nortel would survive the sale of the patents. The auction is scheduled to take place on June 20th.

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