Department of Justice Keeping Close Watch on Nortel Patent Auction

Lora Bentley

Six months ago Research In Motion, Apple and Google entered the bidding war for wireless patents held by bankrupt Canadian telecom provider Nortel. This week, the U.S. Department of Justice has indicated it will be keeping an eye on the Apple and Google bids to make sure they don't raise antitrust concerns. According to Ars Technica, Apple's interest is of particular concern.


The DoJ doesn't want Apple to acquire the patents for the sole purpose of instituting yet another round of smartphone and wireless patent litigation. The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the story, says Apple is "in talks" to resolve the DoJ's concerns. Observers have compared the Nortel patents, as well as those Novell sold to a consortium of companies not long ago, to "loose nukes rolling around," the story says.


It seems patent trolls have emerged to take advantage of just such situations. As attorney Gary Reback told the WSJ:

Now you have these entities that have gone around solely for the purpose of financial exploitation buying up all these loose nukes.

And that's exactly what the antitrust regulators want to prevent. More than a year ago, antitrust chief Christine Varney said:

There seems to be an increase in so-called "trolling" claims that only surface well after an innovator has built the technology into a new product. We will watch developments in this area closely, attentive to actions that appear designed to create or preserve unearned monopoly power.

The Nortel auction is scheduled for June 20.

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