Analysis: Google and Microsoft patent spat

Google complains, yet was offered the chance to get in on patent deal
Emma Woollacott

August 4, 2011
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As we reported earlier this morning, Google and Microsoft are engaged in a public war of words over a claim by Google senior VP and chief legal officer David Drummond that Apple, Oracle and Microsoft are deliberately trying to sabotage Android through ‘bogus’ patent claims.

Drummond says the the compay’s rivals banded together to buy old Novell and Nortel patents, purely to make sure that Google didn’t get them.

“Patents were meant to encourage innovation, but lately they are being used as a weapon to stop it,” Drummond said on Google’s official blog. “This anti-competitive strategy is also escalating the cost of patents way beyond what they’re really worth.”

Drummond points to the fact that the Nortel patent portfolio went for $4.5 billion - four and a half times the pre-auction estimate.

“Fortunately, the law frowns on the accumulation of dubious patents for anti-competitive means - which means these deals are likely to draw regulatory scrutiny, and this patent bubble will pop,” he added.

The accusation appears to have delighted Microsoft, however.

General counsel and senior vice president Brad Smith claims in a tweet: “Google says we bought Novell patents to keep them from Google. Really? We asked them to bid jointly with us. They said no.”

And head of communications Frank Shaw has put in his own two-penn’orth too: “Free advice for David Drummond: next time check with Kent Walker before you blog. :)”.

He goes on to post a snapshot of an email apparently sent by Google SVP and General Counsel Kent Walker to Microsoft’s Smith.

Sent on October 28, 2010, it reads:

“Brad - Sorry for the delay in getting back to you - I came down with a 24-hour bug on the way back from San Antonio. After talking with people here, it sounds as though for various reasons a joint bid wouldn’t be advisable for us on this one. But I appreciate your flagging it, and we’re open to discussing other similar opportunities in the future.”

So, red faces over at Google Towers. It’s hardly fair to accuse Microsoft and Apple of ‘getting into bed together’ to cut Google out, if Google was given the chance to join the party. And with Google actually starting the bidding for the Nortel patents at $1 billion, it’s not exactly surprising that they ended up going for significantly more.

Google has come rather belatedly into the patent-buying game - but it’s trying to make up for that now. Indeed, Drummond’s blog post may be an attempt to boost the company’s position in the upcoming battle over patents owned by InterDigital.

Over 8,000 patents are up for grabs, and Google’s unlikely to have much of a chance if Apple teams up with Microsoft again…


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