By THOMAS CATAN
WASHINGTON—The Justice Department is intensifying an investigation into whether tech giants including Apple Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Research in Motion Ltd. could use a recently acquired trove of patents to unfairly hobble competing smartphones using Google Inc.'s Android software, according to people familiar with the matter.
A consortium of six companies last month paid $4.5 billion to acquire a portfolio of 6,000 patents auctioned by the bankrupt Canadian telecom equipment maker Nortel Networks Corp., thwarting Google's interest.
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the investigation, which hasn't been announced, as did spokesmen for Apple, Microsoft and Google.
Google has previously said it believes the consortium intends to use the patents to block it and others from bringing new products to market.
The bid was "a sign of companies coming together not to buy new technology, not to buy great engineers or great products, but to buy the legal right to stop other people from innovating," Google's general counsel, Kent Walker, said on Bloomberg TV this week.
Google is particularly vulnerable to patent infringement suits. Its size and wealth give it plenty to lose if anyone were to secure a court injunction against one of its key technologies. But it is only 12-years-old and has relatively few patents with which to deter suits by competitors.
The Mountain View, Calif., firm has already come under attack. Apple sued a number of handset makers using Android, including HTC Corp. and Samsung and Motorola. Apple also has been on the receiving end of such suits, recently settling a case brought by Nokia Corp. Google had hoped to bolster its armory with Nortel's patents. But, despite teaming up with chipmaker Intel Corp., the bidding quickly soared beyond what Google was willing to pay. Other members included Sony Corp. and Telefon AB L.M. Ericsson.
The Justice Department had given all bidders in the Nortel auction preliminary antitrust clearance, partly because it didn't wish to affect the outcome of the auction, the people said. But the agency made clear to the parties that it didn't give up the right to take a fresh look if it believed the winning offer presented competitive concerns, they said.
The fact that Apple joined the Rockstar consortium and the bidding rose so high gave the agency cause to look at the issues anew, they said.
Even if Rockstar's deal is allowed by the Justice Department, some question whether it, or its principal members, would be able to bid on patent portfolios in the future without triggering an antitrust challenge.
"We're seeing a situation where big companies seem more willing to try to use, and in essence misuse, their patent portfolio in a really aggressive way to go after open-source products and weaker competitors," said Ed Black, president of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, a tech lobbying group. "That's really troubling."
So congress looks at this 6 months out and a year later comes to some decision. You think Google is going to trust this outcome to protect them? They don't own that much influence in the Obama administration.
As one poster already pointed out, they are just fine with the hundreds of patents they control involving search algorithms.
Let them share those if they want to make a statement about sharing IP with "the rest of the world"
It would be if anyone actually believed they could kiss enough buttock in the Obama justice department to actually have this addressed in their favor. But you are still talking over a year for anything to be acted on'with anything governmental. I don't think that is a gamble Google can afford to bet on.
...all they have to do is ask Google the following question :
If you had won the Nortel bidding process with your $900 million bid, would you still be requesting this investigation ?
probable answer : well, if we had, it wouldn't be an issue ...
give me a freaking break ...
One of the best posts I have seen on Yahoo in quite some time.
I know everyone has their opinions on here but the facts behind this post are proven and all we can say is shoulda, coulda, woulda!
Facts? Like there wouldn't have been a debt if Al Bore was elected? Is that what you call a fact?
OK so if Gore would have been elected, we wouldn't of been attacked on 9/11. The Dot com bubble wouldn't of burst. Katrina never would have hit. The Oceans would be dropping. And all the polar bears would be happy and holding hands singing a Coca-Cola song.
The Republican party of old completely lost their way because they started spending like a liberal would. That is why they were totally purged in 2008. Then we saw spending on steroids compliments of the Marxist Socialist Obama.
We (on the right) now hope and pray the repubs have learned their lesson as we give them back more power. If not then perhaps the tea party will become a third party.
Nobody is saying Obama was the start of over spending and poor fiscal policy. Although he is on course to run up as much or more deficit in 4 years than Bush did in 8.
What we are saying is Obama WILL BE the end of the over spending. Nothing more, nothing less.
Let's concentrate on what the problems are currently and not try to excuse poor leadership by the fact that "the other party was just as bad when they were in" Which is true.
No, X-ray, had Al Gore been elected there would have been no invasion of Iraq and no Bush tax cuts. Those prominent omissions would have made a tremendous difference, fiscally speaking.
Remember, Bush inherited an annual surplus and a national debt run up by all the presidents from George Washington thru Bill Clinton of about $4T. With no tax changes, the annual surpluses could have eliminated that $4T debt by now.
When Bush gave Obama an $8T national debt and the worst economy since the Great Depression (thanks mainly to lax or nonexistent regulation) the national debt had become the existential threat that it is today.
I agree that the national debt needs to be addressed in an intelligent long-term fashion (and think that Tom Coburn of OK is one of the best heads in DC on that score) but it is counter-effective to radically cut spending now just as this contrived debt ceiling debate is pushing the economy back into a double-dip recession.
I don't know about you, but this artificial crisis has cut the value of my stocks by about $10,000 in the past week, and I am not looking forward to losing my Social Security payment either.
Oh well, the sacrifices we must make for ideological economics.
Does ANYBODY remember that we were on the verge of a second Great Depression in late 2008/early 2009??? How do you think we avoided that??? We put it on the national credit card. GWB ordered the meal, OB signed the check. End of story!
In the meantime, it's amazing how something so simple has become so complicated. Two thirds of Americans favor a balanced compromise to our debt crises, yet the DC dumbasses can't/won't deliver our will. Bottom line: they aren't even trying to hide the fact anymore that we Americans long ago lost control of our country. Even still, if you don't call, email, or write your representatives before Tuesday, you have no right to complain.