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Inside look at $4.5B Nortel patent auction reveals battle of wills between Apple, Google

post #1 of 300
Thread Starter 
A behind-the-scenes profile of this week's auction for a group of patents from Nortel revealed a "fast and furious" battle between technology giants Apple and Google.

According to people with knowledge of the situation, the auction saw last minute allegiances and alignments over four days of intense bidding that drove the cost up to more than three times the price expected by some analysts, Reuters reported on Friday.

The auction started with five parties, including two consortiums: Apple, Intel, Google, a consortium of Ericsson, Research in Motion, Microsoft, Sony and EMC, and a group led by defensive patent purchasing firm RPX.

Sources said Intel started the bidding on Monday with a $1.5 billion bid. The RPX consortium, which included Chinese handset maker Huawei, dropped out after the first round of the auction. RPX reportedly sought to partner with another company after withdrawing from the auction, but was unable to broker a deal.

"It did become clear to us very quickly that this was something that a bunch of big companies with humongous balance sheets had decided was strategic for them," RPX Chief Executive John Amster said. "Clearly at a price at this level it had to be strategic, and they could afford that."

On Tuesday night, the Ericsson consortium stopped bidding, eventually joining up with Apple. "When people drop out, you try to partner people," a source told the publication. "It is pretty common in auctions because you are trying to get together people who have reached their individual limits and they still have interest in the assets."

Intel backed out on Wednesday, prompting "heated negotiations" over the next 24 hours as each remaining party tried to convince the chipmaker to join them. The company eventually chose to team up with Google.

According to sources, the Apple-led consortium went by the name "Rockstar," while Google's side called itself "Ranger." Adding to the drama was the fact that Apple and Google hold some of the largest cash reserves in the industry, with war chests estimated at $66 billion and $37 billion, respectively.

"Then it was fast and furious $100 million allotments until they got to $3 billion, at which point Google asked for permission to bid more," a source said. "They bid through $4 billion and tapped out," conceding the patents to the "Rockstar" team, who placed a winning bid of $4.5 billion.

The search giant declined to comment when contacted by the publication, though it did call the auction results "disappointing." Google had hoped to substantially expand its patent holdings, which are smaller than the portfolios of older, more established technology giants like Apple and Microsoft, through the auction.

"Following a very robust auction, we are pleased at the outcome of the auction of this extensive patent portfolio" George Riedel, Nortel's Chief Strategy Officer and President of Business Units, said in a statement after the conclusion of the auction. "The size and dollar value for this transaction is unprecedented, as was the significant interest in the portfolio among major companies around the world."

Also worth noting are indications by sources that Google's bids were "mystifyingly precise" and often contained references to mathematics, such as Brun's constant and Meissel-Mertens.

"It was not clear what strategy Google was employing, whether it wanted to confuse rival bidders, intimidate them, or simply express the irreverence that is part and parcel of its corporate persona," the report noted, while one source suggested the company was either "supremely confident" or just bored.

The run-up to the auction had been closely watched, with analysts and legal experts characterizing the the patent trove as a "nuclear arsenal" of intellectual property. U.S. federal agencies scrutinized potential bidders over concerns that the patents could be wielded for anti-competitive moves.

The Department of Justice conducted an antitrust investigation into a $900 million starting bid from Google, ultimately approving the bid. Meanwhile, the FTC looked into whether Apple would use the patents offensively against competitors before granting the company clearance to bid.

Update: I, Cringelyreports that, according to people familiar with the matter, Apple paid $2 billion to for "outright ownership of Nortels Long Term Evolution (4G) patents as well as another package of patents supposedly intended to hobble Android." RIM and Ericsson paid $1.1 billion together for a license to the portfolio. In addition, RIM will receive Canadian tax breaks for shouldering some of Nortel's operating losses and could potentially break even on the deal.

Meanwhile, Microsoft and Sony reportedly together put up another $1 billion. Finally, storage maker EMC brokered a side deal for about $400 million that grants the company sole ownership of a subset of the patents.

"At the end of the day this deal isnt about royalties. It is about trying to kill Android," the report noted.
post #2 of 300
If Google alone tapped out at 4 billion, why wouldn't Apple just bid for EVERYTHING at $4.5? Drop the consortium like they're hot (do people still use that?) and get everything for their money alone?
post #3 of 300
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post

If Google alone tapped out at 4 billion, why wouldn't Apple just bid for EVERYTHING at $4.5? Drop the consortium like they're hot (do people still use that?) and get everything for their money alone?

1. Less scrutiny by the gov

2. A lot less hassle if you are partners with others... it assures Apple that at least a few major companies won't be suing them in the future.
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post #4 of 300
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post

If Google alone tapped out at 4 billion, why wouldn't Apple just bid for EVERYTHING at $4.5? Drop the consortium like they're hot (do people still use that?) and get everything for their money alone?

Likely Apple agreed not to go headhunting if they acquired the portfolio. However, with a consortium any member can attack with the under the table backing of the rest.
post #5 of 300
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post

If Google alone tapped out at 4 billion, why wouldn't Apple just bid for EVERYTHING at $4.5? Drop the consortium like they're hot (do people still use that?) and get everything for their money alone?

Because even for Apple $4.5 billion dollars is a LOT of money -- essentially for the right to sue people (and be less likely to be sued).
post #6 of 300
Google is a bunch of luser f*cks.
post #7 of 300
One patent that has a lot of bearing on the auctions is LTE. It is or is now good chunk of the next phase of cellular communication that the big telcos are installing and I believe fits perfectly into Apples plans as the new iPhones and Ipads come online this fall.
post #8 of 300
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

Also worth noting are indications by sources that Google's bids were "mystifyingly precise" and often contained references to mathematics, such as Brun's constant and Meissel-Mertens.

"It was not clear what strategy Google was employing, whether it wanted to confuse rival bidders, intimidate them, or simply express the irreverence that is part and parcel of its corporate persona," the report noted, while one source suggested the company was either "supremely confident" or just bored.

Google was just trying to remind everyone how smart they think they are.

   Apple develops an improved programming language.  Google copied Java.  Everything you need to know, right there.

 

    AT&T believes their LTE coverage is adequate

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   Apple develops an improved programming language.  Google copied Java.  Everything you need to know, right there.

 

    AT&T believes their LTE coverage is adequate

Reply
post #9 of 300
Quote:
Originally Posted by John.B View Post

Google was just trying to remind everyone how smart they think they are.

They used WolframAlpha to get those calculations right.

Quote:
Originally Posted by theoldcoot View Post

...Ipads... ...this fall.

post #10 of 300
I bid through eBay regularly and%2
post #11 of 300
This is great that Apple owns the LTE patents. I hope the A-team rips Samsung a new A-hole. I hope Google gets hit with a huge anti-trust lawsuit. Then I hope Apple releases a Liquidmetal battery and puts every other computer maker out of their misery.
post #12 of 300
Quote:
Originally Posted by AndroidInsider View Post

Correct me if I'm wrong, but even if Apple owned all LTE patents because of this purchase, couldn't Google or Samsung or whomever just license the technology through Microsoft or one of the other "partners"? The patents are more than likely just for defense.

i don't think that's how a consortium works.
post #13 of 300
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cpsro View Post

Google is a bunch of luser f*cks.

Ironic, to be sure.
post #14 of 300
The Rockstar consortium, which includes Apple, outrocked Google, and I'm sure glad that Google didn't win.
post #15 of 300
It's amazing and amusing how many infantile minds in various forums (fora actually) including this one view the patent wrangling and auctions as some kind of football game and come out rooting for one side or the other.

The vast sums involved in the litigation and auctioning should be enough to suggest that there is a lot at stake for all involved in the near, mid and long term that could beneficially or adversely affect their fortunes.

For instance, there are many technologies for which Apple or Microsoft are currently paying license fees per unit sale which can now be brought in-house, and cross-licensing deals torn up, getting rid of parasitic patent trolls and reluctant bedfellows (also starting new rounds of litigation unfortunately).

Now people criticising Google, Microsoft and Apple's retention of such large war-chests of cash will begin to appreciate the wisdom in the strategy of keeping their "irons in the fire" for precisely this purpose.

The "bean-counters" in their corporations would have analysed the situation, estimated as accurately as possible what savings (and earnings) could be made by such acquisitions and calculated a maximum price beyond which it would not make sense to bid.

In short, this is no ordinary game, folks...
post #16 of 300
Quote:
Originally Posted by AndroidInsider View Post

Google knew Apple really wanted these patents, so their "odd" bidding was their way of showing they weren't really serious. They just worked to artificially inflate the price, then dropped out when it looked like they were reaching the end of where Apple and the others would go.

The result was a sale price that was four times the expected amount. Apple may have bought some important patents, but they paid far more than they should have. And I've got fifty bucks that says they don't go after anyone with these, and if they do, they won't win. The US patent system is broken.

Google was bidding for a Group so please stop hypothesizing.
post #17 of 300
Quote:
Originally Posted by airmanchairman View Post

It's amazing and amusing how many infantile minds in various forums (fora actually) including this one view the patent wrangling and auctions as some kind of football game and come out rooting for one side or the other.


Whats wrong with backing a side? All sides are not equal. I think the outcome is good for the progression of technology as a whole. I could not say the same if the likes of Google solely won the patents.
post #18 of 300
Quote:
Originally Posted by AndroidInsider View Post

Correct me if I'm wrong, but even if Apple owned all LTE patents because of this purchase, couldn't Google or Samsung or whomever just license the technology through Microsoft or one of the other "partners"? The patents are more than likely just for defense.

No. The Ericsson group partnered with Apple under Apple's terms.
post #19 of 300
Quote:
Originally Posted by Apple ][ View Post

The Rockstar consortium, which includes Apple, outrocked Google, and I'm sure glad that Google didn't win.

Supported.

The way Google politicised WebM against H264 (a technology they subscribe to) after acquiring it suggests that their motives in acquiring any technology are simply for purposes of "ploughing their own furrow" against all others while pretending to stand "for the common good".

It's encouraging that the likes of Sony, Microsoft, Apple, RIM and Ericsson are all together in this enterprise (as indeed they are in the H264 consortium) to pool resources and defences rather than use them as weapons of division and aggression.
post #20 of 300
Quote:
Originally Posted by airmanchairman View Post


In short, this is no ordinary game, folks...

It sure seems like Google is treating it like a game. At the very least, they're doing their bidding as if they were playing a game. What is the deal behind their juvenile bid figures? Are they trying to be funny or hip or something?

I used to play a bit of poker online for money. I don't anymore, because it's now totally illegal, and a small amount of my poker money is still tied up online, thanks to the FBI. In online poker, every once in a while there would be a player who would always bet in strange amounts. Instead of $100, they'd raise $99.54 and so on. Almost every player that I've run into who has used strange betting amounts turned out to be poor players and losing players.

And these poker playing clowns with their weird betting patterns reminds me of Google, because they apparently both share that same juvenile bidding philosophy.
post #21 of 300
Quote:
Originally Posted by AndroidInsider View Post

Correct me if I'm wrong, but even if Apple owned all LTE patents because of this purchase, couldn't Google or Samsung or whomever just license the technology through Microsoft or one of the other "partners"?

Quote:
Originally Posted by airmanchairman View Post

For instance, there are many technologies for which Apple or Microsoft are currently paying license fees per unit sale which can now be brought in-house, and cross-licensing deals torn up, getting rid of parasitic patent trolls and reluctant bedfellows (also starting new rounds of litigation unfortunately).

You're both making the same error. Either an Apple product reads against someone else's patent or it doesn't. If it does, acquiring a different patent doesn't give Apple any freedom to produce the product (but it might help negotiate a cross-licensing deal). If it doesn't, then Apple didn't need to pay license fees in the first place. There are no parallel patents for a particular way of doing something, though there may be overlapping patents.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Apple ][ View Post

It sure seems like Google is treating it like a game. At the very least, they're doing their bidding as if they were playing a game.

All serious academic work on auction theory is based on game theory.
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post #22 of 300
Quote:
Originally Posted by mcarling View Post

All serious academic work on auction theory is based on game theory.

That's interesting. I didn't know that, since I have never ventured into the area of auction theory. There is also a lot of game theory taking place in poker, especially on the higher levels, so maybe my comparison between the two wasn't that far off.
post #23 of 300
Great, now make it all open source an do the world a favour.
post #24 of 300
Quote:
Originally Posted by palegolas View Post

Great, now make it all open source an do the world a favour.

These patents are pretty "open sourced" already. you just need to look it up in the patent office.

But you still need to pay to use them.
post #25 of 300
What the fuck is a Nortel? This is absolutely the worst piece of crap journalism that I've ever read while drunk.
post #26 of 300
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cpsro View Post

Google is a bunch of luser f*cks.

Wow. Didn't see that coming.
post #27 of 300
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Originally Posted by Splash-reverse View Post

I bid through eBay regularly and have won many times yet I don't have the need to be mystical and based my bids on some mathematical references. Granted, these biddings are different but why on earth you want to do that. Auction is a straightforward exercise, no need to be a fancy pants. I suppose they are as suggested, 'supremely confident' but lost.

I imagine they are going to make a new LTE specs just to avoid paying.

BTW, how much did Nortel owed exactly? Architects get 10-15% of the total project cost I wonder how much the auctioneer and their lawyers get from this $4.5b.

Nah I think Google was just trying to be smartasses, they probably think they're still hip, irreverent, saving the world, doing things for "love" and goodness, and who knows what other delusions.

Do you snipe on eBay? Last time I was active was a few years ago and unless you had some specific price points in mind sniping seemed to be what most people do. Have they also clamped down on some auto-snipe type of software?

As for Nortel, they are in deep poo. At least "14 billion". It's quite confusing actually, from the sound of things: https://www.fis.dowjones.com/WebBlog...jblog&s=djfdbr

But I do think bankruptcy is one of the tools of capitalism that do work, in allowing assets to be distributed, and letting unviable businesses die. Of course, all this "too big to fail" nonsense (ie. bailout sprees) around the world is screwing this basic principle up. In fact, long before the "credit crunch", more than once before outright bankruptcy, the Canadian government was accused of trying to "bailout" Nortel.

Quote:
Originally Posted by roocka View Post

This is great that Apple owns the LTE patents. I hope the A-team rips Samsung a new A-hole. I hope Google gets hit with a huge anti-trust lawsuit. Then I hope Apple releases a Liquidmetal battery and puts every other computer maker out of their misery.

Arc reactor. I went go-karting today, and I was just amazed that you are sitting right next to a fairly small "propulsion device" in which you just pour some "magical fluid" into it from time to time, and you get to cruise around at some speed. And it doesn't explode on any regular basis, which is surprising because that's how it works, little explosions. Thoroughly fascinating. Yes, just a simple tiny combustion engine giving you that raw power. I wonder if 100 years from now we'll all have "arc-reactor" kind of things powering everything. Along with solar, which should finally be able to give all the free long-term energy we need. But people will probably still be stupidly reproducing in unsustainable numbers, defeating the point of all this improvement in energy technology. But I, obviously, digress...
post #28 of 300
Quote:
Originally Posted by teejaysplace24 View Post

What the fuck is a Nortel? This is absolutely the worst piece of crap journalism that I've ever read while drunk.

Ah, you young whippersnapper... There was a time when the Internet was *not* used to "poke" or "friend" people. You met and hung out with real friends in flesh and bone, and the Internet was used to look up information*, not to go virtual farming or what not.

There was a time when a "cell phone" meant that you could be reached in emergencies, it was not a device for your girlfriend/boyfriend to sext you 30 times a day.

Bottom line, this Nortel owns a lot of patents for a lot of what we do today in the mobile and Internet world we take for granted. And a lot of patents for a lot of what is to come.

*Yes, including porn, it saved many a teen from embarassing trips from the magazine rack to the cashier even from its early days.
post #29 of 300
Quote:
Originally Posted by mcarling View Post

All serious academic work on auction theory is based on game theory.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Apple ][ View Post

That's interesting. I didn't know that, since I have never ventured into the area of auction theory. There is also a lot of game theory taking place in poker, especially on the higher levels, so maybe my comparison between the two wasn't that far off.

Yup, most of the companies bidding were probably applying "serious game theory", Google was just f***ing around trying to look cool. Somebody needs to tell the class clown we're no longer in the high school era of the Internet.
post #30 of 300
I think you have it partially right. Google and Apple have been battling each other buying up small companies and trying to out do each other. Google wanted these patents or it wouldn't have made the starting bid and it wouldn't have joined up with Intel. Android is a huge target for patent attacks. Microsoft at some point probably will make more of money off of Android then Google. Google likely knew it couldn't outbid Apple and the consortium, so it wanted Apple to know who was making the bid. Google figured if it couldn't win, it might as well drive the price up.

Quote:
Originally Posted by AndroidInsider View Post

Google knew Apple really wanted these patents, so their "odd" bidding was their way of showing they weren't really serious. They just worked to artificially inflate the price, then dropped out when it looked like they were reaching the end of where Apple and the others would go.

The result was a sale price that was four times the expected amount. Apple may have bought some important patents, but they paid far more than they should have. And I've got fifty bucks that says they don't go after anyone with these, and if they do, they won't win. The US patent system is broken.
post #31 of 300
No, Google was bidding for a couple. Wow, people can't even hypothesize anymore. How about educated guesses?

Quote:
Originally Posted by mdriftmeyer View Post

Google was bidding for a Group so please stop hypothesizing.
post #32 of 300
Do you honestly think the consortium didn't think of all these things first? Most of these patents are freely licensable right now. So companies already are paying licensing fees for these patents. The royalties probably will get divided up amongst the members pro rata based on what each member contributed.

Further, the Consortium likely will use the patents 1) for defense, and 2) to make sure Android is not truly free.

Quote:
Originally Posted by AndroidInsider View Post

Correct me if I'm wrong, but even if Apple owned all LTE patents because of this purchase, couldn't Google or Samsung or whomever just license the technology through Microsoft or one of the other "partners"? The patents are more than likely just for defense.
post #33 of 300
I like to know more about the sub plot where Intel first dropped out then changed sides from the winning Apple consortium to the eventually losing Google one. How weird is that? Were they doing a 'Schmidt the Mole' act from the beginning and always planning to swap and tell Google the thinking on the other side?

How will Intel being on the losing side play out in the future Apple - Intel relations or are they already in the pan as Apple develops its A chips? So many questions .... The biggest question maybe how will this change Android's future?
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post #34 of 300
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post

I like to know more about the sub plot where Intel first dropped out then changed sides from the winning Apple consortium to the eventually losing Google one. How weird is that? Were they doing a 'Schmidt the Mole' act from the beginning and always planning to swap and tell Google the thinking on the other side?

How will Intel being on the losing side play out in the future Apple - Intel relations or are they already in the pan as Apple develops its A chips? So many questions .... The biggest question maybe how will this change Android's future?

Where are you getting that Intel was ever part of the Apple consortium? My reading of the article is that they went from being an independent bidder to talking to both sides before joining Google. As to why they would join Google and not the other consortium, I guess we'll never know but I would presume that they felt that Google's interests as a recent entrant to the telecom world better aligned with their own than RIM/Sony/Ericsson/Apple - all of whom would seem to have a primarily defensive interest here.

I'm sure Google/Intel were planning to offer small handset makers cheaper licensing terms if they went with their OS & chipsets.

As for the Apple-Intel relationship, I don't think it's as bad for Intel as you're painting it. Apple's custom chips are going to continue to dominate in their mobile offerings - and could conceivably end up in the Air - but it's really really hard to see them hitting the MB or MBP lines any time soon. Intel has the worlds best Fabs and that will continue to keep its offering in the Laptop and Desktop space compelling.
post #35 of 300
$4.5bn is a stupid amount of money. What was in those patents?
post #36 of 300
Quote:
Originally Posted by nvidia2008 View Post

Nah I think Google was just trying to be smartasses, they probably think they're still hip, irreverent, saving the world, doing things for "love" and goodness, and who knows what other delusions.

Google is a wolf that wears sheeps clothing in public. It is perhaps one of the most evil companies in existence right now. Why? Because of their total disregard for the privacy of the individual.
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Do you snipe on eBay? Last time I was active was a few years ago and unless you had some specific price points in mind sniping seemed to be what most people do. Have they also clamped down on some auto-snipe type of software?

As for Nortel, they are in deep poo. At least "14 billion". It's quite confusing actually, from the sound of things: https://www.fis.dowjones.com/WebBlog...jblog&s=djfdbr

Makes you wonder what happened.

In any event I kinda suspect that Apple and it's team have a common goal here. That would be to make sure LTE can go to market as cheaply as possible and as fast as possible. After all LTE is key to furthering the goals of most of the Rockstar members. In a nut shell cheap LTE services are needed to make viable the roll out of advanced handheld devices.
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But I do think bankruptcy is one of the tools of capitalism that do work, in allowing assets to be distributed, and letting unviable businesses die. Of course, all this "too big to fail" nonsense (ie. bailout sprees) around the world is screwing this basic principle up.

For the most part I agree. For example the break up of GM might have put their battery patents into the hands of someone capable of actually making the technology available on a much wider basis. Unfortunately the Obama administration did this country a huge disservice by "saving" GM. In the end most bailouts seem to end up making things worst instead of better.
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In fact, long before the "credit crunch", more than once before outright bankruptcy, the Canadian government was accused of trying to "bailout" Nortel.

Well at least that didn't happen.
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Arc reactor. I went go-karting today, and I was just amazed that you are sitting right next to a fairly small "propulsion device" in which you just pour some "magical fluid" into it from time to time, and you get to cruise around at some speed. And it doesn't explode on any regular basis, which is surprising because that's how it works, little explosions. Thoroughly fascinating. Yes, just a simple tiny combustion engine giving you that raw power. I wonder if 100 years from now we'll all have "arc-reactor" kind of things powering everything.

It could be as soon as ten years if some of the people looking into alternative fusion methods could get a little cash. Focused Fusion is one interesting approach.
Quote:
Along with solar, which should finally be able to give all the free long-term energy we need. But people will probably still be stupidly reproducing in unsustainable numbers, defeating the point of all this improvement in energy technology. But I, obviously, digress...

Solar electric will never be able to supply enough energy for all of out needs. At best we get like 1000 watts per square meter. That is crap because we will likely never see more than 50% conversion rates. So for every horse power of energy needed you will likely need two square meters of solar cells. We don't have the land area to produce the electricity we need, especially as the population grows and the demand for agricultural space increases.
post #37 of 300
Stupid money means more money has to be paid by stupid people.
That of course being us the public.

It is bad news that patents are becoming 'family silver' to be sold off to the highest bidder.
post #38 of 300
Quote:
Originally Posted by AndroidInsider View Post

Google knew Apple really wanted these patents, so their "odd" bidding was their way of showing they weren't really serious. They just worked to artificially inflate the price, then dropped out when it looked like they were reaching the end of where Apple and the others would go.

The result was a sale price that was four times the expected amount. Apple may have bought some important patents, but they paid far more than they should have. And I've got fifty bucks that says they don't go after anyone with these, and if they do, they won't win. The US patent system is broken.

Wrong... RIMM alone chipped in 770 Mil. and Ericson chipped in 340 Mil.
That leaves EMC, Sony, Microsoft and Apple.
Apple at most probably paid 2 Bills or less with the others paying half a Mil or more give or take a couple of Mils here and there.

This is an awesome deal for Apple.
Apple can greatly improve upon these technologies over the years while collecting the most royalties.
The patents are also great for defending against the likes of Motorola and Nokia.

Apple is now a telecom powerhouse with the devices to use that power.

Time will tell.
post #39 of 300
We'll probably see more of these unlikely partnerships as it's increasingly becoming "everyone vs Google" in the tech world. Who would have thought you'd see Apple, Microsoft, Sony and RIM working together? If the common goal is to stop the advancement of the 800lb gorilla in the room, allegiances like this will be common.
post #40 of 300
Quote:
Originally Posted by ascii View Post

$4.5bn is a stupid amount of money. What was in those patents?

A big chunk of 4G for starters. I think the global handset market is something like 1billion units per year - it doesn't look that insane.

My back of the envelope calculation is that for 20 years of patent with a market of 1billion devices per annum these licenses would only need to generate 30cents per device to cover the cost. I'm actually surprised it didn't go higher.
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