Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Patent Peace: Yahoo and Facebook in Advanced Negotiations to Settle Fractious Infringement Lawsuits

Top execs at Yahoo and Facebook have been hammering out the outlines of a deal over the last several days to end their contentious patent infringement litigation, according to multiple sources close to the situation.

While that could change, sources said a settlement could happen in the coming weeks and that the advanced negotiations will put aside the lawsuits and counterclaims between the one-time close partners and return them back to what could be an even closer relationship.

The key terms being discussed, said sources, include a massive cross-licensing of patents between the Internet giant and the social networking kingpin and an even deeper integration of Facebook into Yahoo and vice versa, which has been a key element of improved engagement of late on Yahoo.

One possible glitch: While Facebook has indicated a willingness to perhaps buy some of Yahoo’s valuable patents, sources said the company is not likely to fork over a massive cash payment to Yahoo as part of a deal.

In a slap to Yahoo’s lawsuit, Facebook recently paid Microsoft $550 million to both buy and also license key patents that the software giant had acquired from AOL, and sources said it is unlikely to do the same for Yahoo.

“Facebook paid a lot of money for patents already, just not to Yahoo,” said one person close to the situation.

That could be a tough reality to swallow for Yahoo, especially since its lawsuit was predicated on the notion that it could get a huge payoff from Facebook in any settlement.

That was the argument used by former CEO Scott Thompson, under whose leadership the legal action was first filed, to convince Yahoo’s board to move forward. The lawsuit caused much consternation in Silicon Valley, but Yahoo’s directors had been told that success could mean many billions of dollars from Facebook to end the fight.

But Thompson was recently ousted from his job over a resume-padding controversy, and it appears that Yahoo board members who pushed for the lawsuit are now distancing themselves from its filing.

In other words, it was all Scott’s fault, so now that he’s gone: Bygones!

Let’s be clear: It wasn’t his doing alone by any means, but Yahoo is now facing an uphill and long-term battle in the case to win anything at all.

That’s why its new interim CEO, Ross Levinsohn, along with several board members, including Third Point’s Daniel Loeb, have stepped up talks.

(Yahoo’s on a bit of a goodwill mission, recently adding activist shareholder Loeb as a Yahoo director after settling its proxy fight with him, as well as finally completing a complex asset sale deal with China’s Alibaba Group.)

Interestingly, for Yahoo’s side, this negotiation now appears to be more of a group effort — with board members actively involved — than a solo performance by Levinsohn as the company presses for a solution now.

Facebook is also very motivated to get rid of the problem, especially because its recent borked IPO has taken up a lion’s share of the media and investor perception and attention. Sources said execs there hope that a successful settlement with Yahoo — as well as an expected announcement of an integration with Apple’s iOS at the Worldwide Developers Conference in mid-June — will return the focus to forward momentum by Facebook.

To underscore the importance of settlement, the discussions are being led by the social networking site’s powerful COO, Sheryl Sandberg, along with its VP of partnerships, Dan Rose.

Sandberg and Levinsohn (and his posse of hey-can-I-help-too Yahoo directors) talked in depth about the settlement at the recent 10th D: All Things Digital conference earlier this week, after a number of previous discussions had already taken place.

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I dunno, Sean Parker spent tacky millions on a wedding vs. cynical lobbying like Zuckerberg; nowhere near as gross as Larry Ellison’s MiG.

— Anil Dash, via Twitter