Report: Antitrust officials intensify Nortel patent investigation

Antitrust officials at the Department of Justice have intensified their investigation into the sale of Nortel Network's patent portfolio, and are exploring how the consortium of companies that paid $4.5 billion for the patent trove in July intends to use the patents, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

The report, which cited unnamed sources familiar with the matter, said Justice Department officials are interviewing consortium members about whether they plan to file patent infringement suits against licensees of Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android platform. Google made the opening $900 million "stalking horse" bid for the patents, but was outbid by the consortium, known as Rockstar Bidco, which includes Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), EMC Corp., Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) and Sony.

Additionally, the report said the Justice Department wants to know whether the consortium intends to use the patents for defensive purposes only, and is talking to other companies that might be affected. Nortel's patents cover a wide range of technologies, including wireless video, Wi-Fi, social networking, semiconductors and, most notably, LTE. Many patent law experts saw the consortium bid as a way for the companies to keep the wireless patents out of Google's hands and to put Android on the defensive.

Representatives from the Justice Department, Apple, Google and Microsoft declined to comment, according to the Journal. A Justice Department investigation into the patent sale was first reported last month by the Washington Post. Although the deal has closed, the Justice Department could still impose conditions on the patents.

Separately, Google is reportedly interested in purchasing InterDigital, which develops and licenses circuitry designs, software and wireless technologies and said last month it is exploring strategic options, including a possible sale. InterDigital's stock has a market value of $1.95 billion, and the firm holds about 8,800 patents and has about 10,000 patent applications in process around the world. According to a separate report in the Journal, InterDigital is looking for a price that not only reflects the value of its patents, but the long-term recurring revenue from licensing those patents.

For more:
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)

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