To usurp Mark Twain, the reports of Nortel‘s demise are greatly exaggerated. GigaOm reports that the defunct Canadian telco giant has found an afterlife as part of a patent trolling operation that struck Android phone makers and is now targeting network and cable operators with lawsuits in Texas and Delaware.
Jeff John Roberts writes that Nortel’s second act as the walking dead is taking place thanks to “Rockstar Consortium,” a group formed by Microsoft (MSFT), Apple (AAPL), Blackberry (BBRY), Sony (SNE), Ericsson AB (ERIC), EMC (EMC) and other Google (GOOG) rivals, which bought bankrupt Nortel’s patent portfolio in 2011 for $4.5 billion. (rb- I covered the sale of Nortel’s IP here)
“Nortel was the source of many of the most important innovations in history in the field of telecommunications and networking,” says a new Rockstar lawsuit filed in the seemingly pro-troll U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas that accuses Time Warner Cable (TWC) of violating six patents, including US Patent 6128649, which was issued in the year 2000 and describes a method to show multiple screens in a video conference the article summarizes.
The complaint doesn’t say how exactly Time Warner Cable is infringing the old Nortel patents, but only notes that “TWC operates, sells and offers to sell video, high-speed data and voice services over its broadband cable systems throughout the United States.” The author says Rockstar, which is suing through a subsidiary called Constellation, also complains that the cable company walked away from its licensing demands in 2012.
GigaOm notes a second lawsuit, filed in Delaware by Rockstar under the alias “Bockstar” makes a series of broad-based allegations against Cisco (CSCO) that claim the company is violating six other old Nortel patents, including this one from 1998, related to routers and switches.
Like all patent trolling, the author says that has nothing to do with innovation, but it certainly will lead to higher cable bills as Time Warner will have to spend millions on lawyers to fight the suit or else pay expensive license fees for old patents from a dead company; either way, the costs are passed on to customers.
Joe Mullin of Ars Technica noted when Rockstar sued the phone companies, “it’s patent trolling gone corporate.” And there’s no indication of where this will stop. Apple and Microsoft are sitting on thousands of patents that date from an era when the Patent Office would grant a patent on nearly anything, and it looks like they’re going to use them to sue every industry they can think of.
The totally dysfunctional US Congress tried to take on patent trolling but caved into lobbyists. Microsoft has already succeeded in stripping out a part of the law that would have made it easier to challenge bad patents. This means the best hope for a return to patent sanity may lie with the Supreme Court, which agreed to consider what type of software patents should be granted in the first place.
GigaOm cites CBC reports that Ottawa, Nortel’s hometown has been transformed from a one-time innovation hotbed into a tech necropolis where once-proud engineers are paid to pick apart other people’s inventions in search of new patent violations that they can pass on their American masters.
I have covered the patent trolling mayhem in the mobile market for a while and this seems to be more of the same. Innovation is dead in the mobile market and they only way these firms can compete is in the court-house.
In addition to their choice of venue in the pro-troll Texas court, further evidence that Microsoft and Apple have created a patent troll can be found in the fact that Rockstar has filed suit against the leading Android phone producers:
- Samsung Electronics Co. (005930) (#1 Android OEM in U.S. sales),
- LG Electronics (LGLD) (#2),
- ZTE (763) (#4),
- Huawei (002502) (#6) and
- HTC (2498) (#7).
In addition DailyTech notes that Rockstar member Sony is a minor Android OEM. If somehow Microsoft and Apple are able to troll other Android OEMs to death, Sony could see gains in market share, as the only OEM who doesn’t have to pay direct licensing fees to Microsoft/Apple (Sony also notably has preexisting licensing deals with Microsoft and Apple).
- Google Takes Rockstar To Court Over Nortel Patents (phonescoop.com)
Ralph Bach has been in IT for fifteen years and has blogged from his Bach Seat about IT, careers and anything else that catches his attention since 2005. You can follow me at Facebook and Twitter. Email the Bach Seat here.