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Microsoft Says It Tried To Bring Google In On Novell Patent Deal

Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) laughed off Google’s strident attack on its patent foes late Wednesday, claiming that it offered to make a joint bid for the Novell patent portfolio with the search giant but was rebuffed by a company that claims the world is massing at its gates. However, Microsoft’s evidence for the offer doesn’t mention patents at all in an e-mail dated October 2010.

Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith was the first company executive to respond to Google (NSDQ: GOOG) chief legal officer David Drummond, who penned a strongly worded essay on Google’s corporate blog attacking those who were supposedly ganging up on Google in trying to deny Google access to patents it desperately wants to defend Android. “Google says we bought Novell patents to keep them from *Google*. Really? We asked them to bid jointly with us. They said no,” Smith wrote on his Twitter feed.

A few hours later, Frank Shaw, Microsoft’s lead public relations executive, offered up a tweet of his own. “Free advice for David Drummond – next time check with Kent Walker before you blog. :)” Shaw attached a photo of an e-mail dated October 28th 2010 sent by Kent Walker, Google’s general counsel, to Smith that read as follows:

Brad —
Sorry for the delay in getting back to you — I came down with a 24-hour bug on the way back from San Antonio. After talking with people here, it sounds as though for various reasons a joint bid wouldn’t be advisable on this one. But I appreciate you flagging it, and we’re open to discussing similar opportunities in the future.
I hope the rest of your travels go well, and I look forward to seeing you again soon.

A photo of the e-mail (in tiny, tiny print) appears below.

Assuming that Shaw is honestly claiming that this particular e-mail was related to the Novell patent auction–to which no reference appears–the e-mail is certainly interesting. There’s obviously no easy way to tell what would have happened to the mobile patent disputes currently underway if Google and Microsoft had shared access to the patents, but such a partnership would have probably lessened the tension between the companies. Google has yet to respond to a request for comment or clarification on Smith’s tweet.

The Novell patent auction, which flew far further under the radar than the landmark $4.5 billion auction for Nortel’s mobile patent portfolio, was won by a consortium that included Microsoft, Apple (NSDQ: AAPL), Oracle, and EMC. Federal regulators forced the group to change some of the parameters of the deal.

Regardless of the context, it’s always interesting to get a window into the high-level discussions between companies that are supposedly at each other’s throats in the public arena. Microsoft has written public essays of a similar tone calling Google’s search dominance into question, but obviously the companies can be cordial when needed. It’s unlikely, however, that such professional courtesy was extended to the Nortel auction, in which Google bid against a group that included Microsoft only to lose out once Apple joined the Microsoft group late in the bidding process.

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