A new front opened today in the patent wars between large technology companies, as a consortium that owns thousands of patents from the Nortel bankruptcy auction filed suit against Google and other manufacturers alleging infringement. Rockstar, which is owned jointly by Apple, Blackberry, Ericsson, Microsoft, and Sony, filed suit in US District Court in Texas. In addition to Google, the consortium has alleged infringement by Asus, HTC, Huawei, LG, Pantech, Samsung, and ZTE.
The suits open up two lines of attack on hardware manufacturers. Rockstar is suing Google over patents that lie at the heart of its search advertising business, and it's suing Google's hardware manufacturing partners over the devices that run Android. Suing Asus, for example, amounts to an attack on the Nexus 7, which Asus manufactures for Google. "While we haven't yet been served with this complaint, we continue to advocate for patent reform that would address the current flood of patent litigation," a Google spokesperson said in a statement.
The move comes almost two years after the US Department of Justice approved the sale of the patents to Rockstar. The consortium spent $4.5 billion to buy more than 6,000 patents from Nortel in an auction in which Google was also a bidder. At the time, the Department of Justice said that members of the consortium committed to licensing so-called standard essential patents, which undergird many basic technologies in cell phones and other devices, on fair terms.
"Pretty much anybody out there is infringing."
Since then, as recounted by Wired, Rockstar has been devoted to reverse-engineering the patents and looking for evidence of infringement. "Pretty much anybody out there is infringing," John Veschi, the CEO of Rockstar, told the magazine. "It would be hard for me to envision that there are high-tech companies out there that don't use some of the patents in our portfolio."
Google is now accused of infringing seven of the Nortel patents, covering technology that helps match internet search queries with relevant advertising, according to Reuters. The lawsuit tried to use the fact that Google attempted to buy the patents against it: "Despite losing in its attempt to acquire the patents-in-suit at auction, Google has infringed and continues to infringe," the lawsuit said.
Samsung is accused of infringing seven patents related to graphical user interfaces, messaging, and notifications, among other issues. HTC and LG are accused of violating the same patents.