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Apple, Nokia and Google fight for Nortel patents

Just one remaining asset of Nortel Networks, its patent portfolio, is still left to be sold, almost two years after the Canadian firm declared bankrup

By PETER WHITE

Published: 16 December, 2010

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Just one remaining asset of Nortel Networks, its patent portfolio, is still left to be sold, almost two years after the Canadian firm declared bankruptcy. It could be a major battle. The three firms fighting to define the new mobile experience - Apple, Nokia and Google - are all said to be bidding in an auction that could generate $1bn for Nortel's creditors.

Nortel separated many of its formidable pile of intellectual property assets from the sale of other units, notably its 4G, CDMA and GSM businesses to Ericsson. At the time, there was controversy over the decision to keep many patents off the table, and Nortel was even considering keeping the IPR and retaining its brand as a licensing firm. However, with such high profile companies now reported to be interested, it is unlikely the Canadian company could satisfy the requirements of its creditors, and generate more value by keeping its patents than by selling them.

Citing unnamed sources familiar with the process, news agency Reuters reports that final bids for the 4,000 patents are due within the next few weeks. The assets have been split into six groups in different technology areas, and these could presumably be sold separately.

The most valuable is likely to be the one for LTE, a platform that is still sufficiently young for many players to be fighting for IPR control. Nortel contributed significantly to both 4G standards, WiMAX and LTE, with R&D in key areas like OFDMA and MIMO. Firms like Nokia might be keen to boost their bargaining power in LTE patents against majors like Qualcomm and Huawei. RIM had expressed interest in Nortel's IPR last year, but is unlikely to be able to fend off the giants.

One of the largest companies building a business around wireless patents, InterDigital, told Reuters it was part of a consortium bidding for the LTE IPR. "It's unusual for an asset like that to come to market," the company's CEO William Merritt said. Usually, patents are traded in small numbers, not en masse.

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