Report: Antitrust officials investigating Nortel patent auction

Antitrust regulators at the Department of Justice are exploring whether the $4.5 billion winning coalition bid for Nortel Networks' patent portfolio will hurt competition by blocking or harming Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android platform, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The report, citing an unnamed source familiar with the matter, said antitrust enforcers are looking into the winning bankruptcy court bid made by Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), EMC Corp., Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) and Sony, though the report did not say if, or when, any action might be taken. The report also noted that the American Antitrust Institute sent a letter to the Justice Department asking antitrust officials to begin an investigation of the sale.

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.

Google made the opening bid of $900 million in April and was in the final round of bidding but dropped out as the prices spiraled higher. The patents cover technologies including wireless video, Wi-Fi, social networking, semiconductors and, most notably, LTE.

"We chose not to bid at that level," Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman, told the Financial Times. "I presume people spent $4.5 billion to do something with them," he said of the winning consortium. "They didn't just wake up and say, 'Oh, we'd like to have this patent portfolio.' I don't know what their intent is, but we, as a company, worry that this is an attempt to use patents rather than to innovate."

However, the sale could be delayed, given that Canada's Industry Minister Christian Paradis has launched an investigation to ensure the sale aligns within the Investment Canada Act. Canada has reviewed past Nortel asset auctions to see if they comply with the Investment Canada Act, most notably for Ericsson's purchase of Nortel's CDMA and LTE assets.

For more:
- see this Washington Post article
- see this FT article

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