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Microsoft- and Apple-Backed Holding Company Sues Google

The consortium of companies that bought Nortel's intellectual property two years ago filed a lawsuit against Google on Thursday, alleging willful infringement of seven patents.

According to the lawsuit (PDF) filed by Rockstar Consortium, all of the patents are associated with search-advertising technologies. However, the move is effectively another volley in the so-called "mobile platform wars."

Plano, Texas-based Rockstar, which bought Nortel Network's patents for $4.5 billion in 2011, isn't just any patent holding company. It consists of Microsoft, Apple, EMC, Ericsson, Research In Motion and Sony. Those companies pooled their resources to defeat Google's initial bid of $900 million for the Nortel patents. Google's final bid before losing the auction to Rockstar was $4.4 billion, according to the lawsuit. In reaction, Google bought patents from IBM, as well as Motorola Mobility's patents.

Rockstar signaled early last year that it intended to collect royalties on its newly acquired Nortel patents. The company essentially acts as a patent troll, according to an Ars Technica article, because it claims to be independent of its coalition companies. That circumstance may make it harder for Google to claim patent infringements in turn, since Rockstar is just a holding company. Rockstar has a lab devoted to reverse-engineering software to spot potential patent violations, according to the article.

The lawsuit against Google by Rockstar perhaps marks yet another phase in mobile platform litigation. The mobile computing segment is fast growing, and so companies with a stake in it are acting to secure market share by pushing their search-advertising and operating system technologies. What can't be accomplished in that sphere is getting carved out in the form of seemingly nonstop litigation.

So far, the mobile platform wars have been indirect. Players such as Apple and Microsoft have sued hardware companies (and even their partners) over alleged software patent infringements. The target has been the Linux-based Android operating system, fostered by Google, which is the most widespread mobile OS in use to date. Android held 52.4 percent of the smartphone market in August, followed by Apple iOS (39.2 percent), RIM BlackBerry (4.8 percent) and Microsoft's mobile OSes (3.0 percent), according to results tabulated by comScore.

Part of the appeal of Android to hardware manufacturers is that it is available to them royalty free, which may account, in part, for Android's proliferation. Now, with the initiation of Rockstar's lawsuit, the larger players in the mobile platform wars appear to be suing each other directly.

Rockstar's lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, a venue that's very friendly to patent infringement claims. Microsoft itself lost a patent infringement case in that district in 2009 that was filed by Toronto-based i4i LP.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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