Google settles patent litigation with Apple-backed Rockstar consortium

Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) has settled patent litigation with a consortium of companies backed by Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and other tech giants, according to a court filing. Financial terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

The settlement is significant because Rockstar had gone after Google and several major handset makers that use Google's Android platform, so the détente could potentially signal a cooling of the patent battles between wireless players, especially over Android.

Rockstar is a patent consortium owned by Apple, Microsoft, Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC), Sony, EMC and BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY). The group paid $4.5 billion for the 6,000 patents that bankrupt Nortel Networks offered up for auction in 2011, beating out Google.

According to a filing made in a federal court in Texas federal on Monday, Google and Rockstar have reached what is known as a "term sheet," which will be "reduced to a definitive agreement" over the next few weeks. Google and the consortium have agreed to settle "all matters in controversy between the parties," according to the filing.

However, as Reuters notes, the filing does not say whether Rockstar has also settled with Samsung Electronics, ZTE, LG Electronics, HTC, Pantech, and Asustek. In January Rockstar dropped its suit against Huawei.

A Google spokesman declined to comment on Thursday, and Rockstar representatives could not immediately be reached, according to Reuters.

Earlier this week Cisco disclosed it will book a $188 million charge related to a settlement with Rockstar. Rockstar is also involved in litigation with Charter Communications (NASDAQ: CHTR), Cable One, the Arris Group, Cisco Systems and others.

Despite the ongoing friction between Rockstar and some wireless and telecom companies, there has recently been a slight thawing in mobile-related patent litigation. In August Apple and Samsung agreed to abandon all of their patent litigation against each other outside of the United States. However, the companies have not reached any kind of a formal settlement surrounding their patents, and the battles between the two remain ongoing in U.S. courts.

While the majority of Rockstar's patents have still not expired, there will be a surge in patent expirations starting in 2017, according to an independent analysis of patent portfolio conducted in late July by legal technology consulting firm Elysium Digital.

Elysium analyzed a snapshot of the U.S. patents and patent applications that made up the Rockstar patent portfolio as of Feb. 21, 2014. The firm's report focused on the U.S. patents and applications, and includes analysis of current assignments of patent and application assets, areas of technology covered, and timing of patent expiration dates. Elysium based its analysis on public data, including file histories, reassignment data, and patent text provided by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

According to the report, "there will be a significant increase in [patent] expirations beginning in 2017. Expirations will then peak in the years 2019, 2020, and 2021, with more than 400 patents expiring in each of those calendar years." That could take some of the power away from the consortium over time as the patents expire and Rockstar potentially loses its ability to sue for patent infringement on hundreds of patents.

For more:
- see this Reuters article
- see this BBC News article
- see this Ars Technica article

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