Ina Fried

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Is Google the Biggest Loser After Nortel Patent Auction?

When it submitted its initial $900 million bid for Nortel’s patents, Google talked about the need to assemble more of a patent collection to protect itself in an increasingly litigious world.

So how is the company feeling after losing the auction to a consortium including several rivals that have Android in their legal crosshairs?

Well, not too good, thanks for asking.

“This outcome is disappointing for anyone who believes that open innovation benefits users and promotes creativity and competition,” Google Senior VP and General Counsel Kent Walker said in a statement provided to AllThingsD. “We will keep working to reduce the current flood of patent litigation that hurts both innovators and consumers.”

The patents sold for $4.5 billion to a group made up of Apple, EMC, Ericsson, Microsoft, Research In Motion and Sony. The collection of more than 6,000 patents covers a range of technologies, including lots in wireless and networking and some related to 4G wireless technology.

Google and its Android partners are, of course, finding themselves entwined in a host of legal battles. Apple is suing Taiwanese phone maker HTC, while Oracle is suing Google directly.

Microsoft has sued Motorola and Barnes & Noble over their use of the open source operating system, while seeking Android royalties from any company that will pay. HTC has already agreed to a deal with Microsoft, as have three smaller players, in moves announced this week.

Given all that, open source patent watcher Florian Mueller said he was surprised Google didn’t cough up whatever was necessary to get its hands on Nortel’s patents.

“No major industry player is as needy in terms of patents as Google,” Mueller said, noting that there are some 45 patent infringement lawsuits already surrounding Android. Still, he noted, “By purchasing Nortel’s portfolio, Google couldn’t have solved all of Android’s patent issues in one fell swoop.”

Mueller said the patents wouldn’t have helped much against Oracle, for example. “But Google lost an unprecedented opportunity to acquire a major bargaining chip that would strengthen it at the mobile industry’s intellectual property negotiating table.”

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik