In the early days of the iOS-Android war, Steve Jobs told his biographer Walter Isaacson “I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.” Everyone immediately anticipated patent claims against the Android OS. I doubt many anticipated claims against Google’s undiversified core business.
ArsTechnica is reporting that Rockstar, the company spawned from an Apple-Microsoft-RIM-Sony alliance which, in 2011, outbid Google for a trove of Nortel and Novell patents, has filed suit against Google:
The complaint against Google involves six patents, all from the same patent “family.” They’re all titled “associative search engine,” and list Richard Skillen and Prescott Livermore as inventors. The patents describe “an advertisment machine which provides advertisements to a user searching for desired information within a data network.”
The oldest patent in the case is US Patent No. 6,098,065, with a filing date of 1997, one year before Google was founded.
If you think that sounds like nearly 95% of Google’s revenue, you’re not alone. This sole patent feels like enough motivation for Google to have won this auction at all costs. Not only did Google not win, it made joke bids. What were they thinking?
Perhaps Google wasn’t thinking. Perhaps it was woefully unprepared for the 2011 auction and lacked a sufficiently clear picture of how valuable the portfolio was — and conversely, how dangerous it would be in other hands. Or perhaps Google decided to brave court battles and ideally set a precedent that crumbles the patent troll house of cards for good. That sounds very, very risky, and doesn’t explain why it bid up to $4.4B in the first place.
It also doesn’t explain why Google paid twelve billion dollars (!!!) for Motorola just one month later. It’s harder than ever to see the Motorola purchase as anything but panic: having lost the Nortel auction, possibly not even realizing what they’d lost until after the fact, Google scrambled for countermeasures. Larry Page practically admitted as much when he announced the deal.
Unfortunately, Motorola’s patents have not proven too useful. Florian Mueller repeatedly predicted this mess, chronicling a number of courtroom dead-ends since the Motorola deal was made. And then there’s the small matter of Motorola continuing to hemorrhage cash. I wonder if Dan Lyons still thinks the deal was a “rope-a-dope”.
I’ve said this multiple times in the past, and I’ll say it again: I don’t like this game. Rockstar looks, smells, and now acts like countless NPE’s that have done more harm than good — namely Lodsys, which has been aggressively harassing Apple’s own ecosystem. It’s extremely disappointing to see Apple facilitate this kind of behavior. At the same time, the missed Nortel auction and dubious Motorola purchase look as awful a strategic blunder as ever for Google. They kept their head in the sand for too long.