Research in Motion, the BlackBerry maker, is considering a bid for Nortel Networks’ portfolio of wireless technology patents that would exceed Google’s $900 million offer, Bloomberg reported, citing two people familiar with the plans.
One of those sources said that Waterloo, Ontario, Canada-based RIM is considering whether to bid alone for the assets or save money on a joint bid to prevent Google from acquiring all of Nortel’s 6,000 patents and patent applications.
Earlier this month, bankrupt Nortel, which has been selling itself off in pieces, announced entering into a “stalking horse asset sale agreement” with Google to sell roughly 6,000 patents and patent applications covering a range of patent portfolios. Those portfolios include wireless, wireless 4G, data networking, optical, voice, Internet, service provider and semiconductors.
Through the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware and the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Nortel planned to seek to establish bidding procedures for an auction that would allow other qualified bidders to submit higher or better offers than Google’s bid.
Based on its cash reserves, Google appears to have the upper hand in a bidding war with RIM. As of March 31, 2011, the search-engine king had $36.7 billion in cash, cash equivalents and marketable securities. RIM only has a fraction of that amount: $2.7 billion in cash, cash equivalents, short-term and long-term investments as of Feb. 26, 2011.
Google’s exposure to litigation helps to explain its desire to acquire Nortel’s patents. Google is a defendant in patent, copyright and trademark infringement lawsuits related to its products, services and technologies, such as Android, Google WebSearch and Google AdWords, according to its annual report.
Kent Walker, senior vice president and general counsel of Google, indicated in a blog earlier this month that the acquisition of the Nortel patents could dissuade the company’s competitors from suing Google for patent infringement.
“The tech world has recently seen an explosion in patent litigation, often involving low-quality software patents, which threatens to stifle innovation,” Walker wrote. “Some of these lawsuits have been filed by people or companies that have never actually created anything; others are motivated by a desire to block competing products or profit from the success of a rival’s new technology.”
Google has advocated for patent reform, but today “one of a company’s best defenses against this kind of litigation is (ironically) to have a formidable patent portfolio, as this helps maintain your freedom to develop new products and services,” Walker stated. “Google is a relatively young company, and although we have a growing number of patents, many of our competitors have larger portfolios given their longer histories.”