August 18, 2022

DealBook: Apple and Microsoft Beat Google for Nortel Patents

Nortel Networks, the defunct Canadian telecommunications equipment maker, said that it had agreed to sell more than 6,000 patent assets to a consortium made up of Apple, Microsoft and other technology giants for $4.5 billion in cash.

The group of companies — which also included Research in Motion, Sony, Ericsson and EMC — beat out Google and Intel for the patents and patent applications that Nortel had accumulated when it was still one of the largest telecom equipment makers in North America.

Two years after it filed for bankruptcy, Nortel sold off its last remaining patents — covering businesses from wireless and networking technology to semiconductors — in an auction that it called ‘‘very robust’’ in a statement late Thursday.

‘‘The size and dollar value for this transaction is unprecedented, as was the significant interest in the portfolio among major companies around the world,’’ said George Riedel, chief strategy officer of Nortel.

Nortel had delayed the auction once last month because of what it called ‘‘significant interest,’’ and only started the sale on Monday. The company said it hoped to close the transaction in the third quarter.

In April, Google made a stalking-horse bid of $900 million for the patents, some of which are related to the 4G wireless technology known as long-term evolution. Networks based on that technology, considered crucial to the future of telecommunications, are created to carry large amounts of data like streamed video to mobile devices.

The Google offer was interpreted as a defensive move by the search engine giant, which was seeking intellectual property rights to shield itself from lawsuits as it moves deeper into the mobile business with its Android platform.

Kent Walker, Google’s general counsel, wrote at the time of the bid that it was supposed to ‘‘create a disincentive for others to sue Google.’’

‘‘The tech world has recently seen an explosion in patent litigation, often involving low-quality software patents,’’ Mr. Walker wrote.

Now, thousands of crucial patents will be in the hands of rivals like Apple and Microsoft, both of which have shown themselves to be much more aggressive in patent litigation than Google.

On Friday, Mr. Walker said in an e-mail message that the auction’s outcome was ‘‘disappointing for anyone who believes that open innovation benefits users and promotes creativity and competition.”

The sale announced Thursday will require approval from courts in Canada and the United States, Nortel said. Some 2,600 of the patent assets are American. A joint hearing has been scheduled for July 11.

Nortel, based in Mississauga, Ontario, was once a flagship Canadian company, before a nearly $6 billion loss in the crisis year of 2008 pushed it toward bankruptcy, for which it filed in 2009.

Since then, it has also sold its wireless equipment business for $1.13 billion to Ericsson, the Swedish company that walked away with $340 million worth of patents from the auction Thursday. More recently, Ericsson bought Telcordia, the American telecom network equipment maker, for $1.15 billion.

In 2009, Nortel sold another unit dealing with enterprise solutions for $475 million to Avaya, the former ATT unit now owned by private equity, which filed for an initial public offering last month.

RIM, Canada’s most prominent technology company since Nortel collapsed, said in a separate statement that it had paid about $770 million for patents at the auction.

The sale of patents Thursday raised more than the rest of Nortel’s disposals combined.

But the company said that it did not anticipate that holders of its common shares or preferred stock would benefit from the bankruptcy process. Creditor protection proceedings ‘‘will result in the cancellation of these equity interests,’’ Nortel said.

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