Rockstar, Patent-Holding Firm Partially Owned by Apple and Microsoft, Sues Google and Android Handset Makers

Brian Fitzgerald, reporting for the WSJ Digits blog:

In 2011, Google lost an expensive bidding war for a group of Nortel Networks patents to a handful of technology giants including Apple and Microsoft that paid $4.5 billion. Two years later, a consortium jointly owned by those companies is suing Google for patent infringement.

In response, Paul Graham:

The world changed today. Apple definitively crossed over into evil. (Microsoft is merely pathetic.)

And David Heinemeier Hansson:

Apple and Microsoft should be ashamed of themselves for underwriting such blatant patent troll warfare, … - disgusting.

Both link to Ars Technica’s story on the lawsuit, headlined, “Patent War Goes Nuclear: Microsoft, Apple-Owned ‘Rockstar’ Sues Google”, which I would say presents a rather one-sided slant to the story, starting with its sub-head, “Rockstar paid $4.5 billion for Nortel patents and has launched a major attack.”

The only mention of Motorola in Ars’s story is this:

Google’s failure to get patents in the Nortel auction was seen as one of the driving factors in its $12.5 billion purchase of Motorola in 2011.

But Motorola — a wholly-owned Google subsidiary — has filed patent lawsuits against Apple all over the world. Just one month ago Apple finally put an end to an 18-month injunction that prevented iCloud users in Germany from getting push notifications for email — because of a patent lawsuit filed by Google.

If anything, Google has been the worst of the bunch, found guilty of abusing FRAND patents.

This latest lawsuit filed by Rockstar is an escalation of a patent war against Google and Android, not the start of it. Nobody looks good here — not Apple, not Microsoft, but certainly not Google either. Google started filing lawsuits based on Motorola patents long before Rockstar filed this suit. Given that, I find it hard to believe that had Google won the bidding for the rights to Nortel’s patent trove — and it bid $4.4 billion for them — it wouldn’t have filed lawsuits based on them in the same way it has with Motorola’s.

If you want to argue that the whole patent system stinks, and that all of these tech giants are abusing it, I agree. But if you want to argue that Apple and Microsoft are in the wrong, and poor Google and their Android partners are victims of one-sided abuse, I’m going to have to disagree. If there’s a difference between Apple/Microsoft and Google in this war, it’s not over nobility, but rather over how well each side has played the game. It’s looking more and more like Google made a strategic blunder, underbidding for the Nortel patents and then subsequently overpaying for Motorola Mobility.

I largely agree with Matt Drance’s take, but quibble with his concluding paragraph:

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.

The difference between Lodsys and Rockstar is that Lodsys is a bully, suing small (and in some cases, downright tiny) companies that lack the financial wherewithal to fight back. And in fact, when Lodsys’s targets do fight back, Lodsys runs away — settling for nothing in order to avoid a trial. Rockstar may be a patent troll, but they’re a patent troll that at least is picking on someone its own size.