Patent wars heat up: Rivals gang up on Google and Samsung

04/11/2013

A consortium of tech firms including Microsoft, Apple, Blackberry, Ericsson, and Sony, have teamed up to file a lawsuit against Google and its Android smartphone makers, over the way it matches search terms with relevant advertising.

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The move is largely seen as an attack on Google's biggest business AdWords, its search ad scheme that let advertisers bid on keywords, which generates around 90% of all the web giant's revenue.

The group, called the ‘Rockstar Consortium’ filed the suits against Google and seven companies that make Android smartphones: Asustek, HTC, Huawei, LG Electronics, Pantech, Samsung, and ZTE.

Rockstar spent $4.5bn (£2.8bn) buying thousands of Nortel patents after the telecoms giant went bankrupt in 2009. Google lost out in the bidding war.

The Rockstar lawsuit claims Google has infringed seven patents relating to the way internet search terms match up with relevant advertising.

When it lost out in the Nortel auction, the company's top lawyer, David Drummond, complained that the Microsoft-Apple patent alliance was part of a "hostile, organized campaign against Android." Google's failure to get patents in the Nortel auction was seen as one of the driving factors in its $12.5 billion purchase of Motorola in 2011.

The complaints

The complaint against Google involves six patents, all from the same patent "family." They're all titled "associative search engine" and list Richard Skillen and Prescott Livermore as inventors.

The patents describe "an advertisement machine which provides advertisements to a user searching for desired information within a data network."

The oldest patent in the case is US Patent No. 6,098,065, with a filing date of 1997, one year before Google was founded. The newest patent in the suit was filed in 2007 and granted in 2011.

The complaint tries to use the fact that Google bid for the patents as an extra point against the search giant. "Google subsequently increased its bid multiple times, ultimately bidding as high as $4.4 billion," wrote Rockstar's lawyers. "That price was insufficient to win the auction, as a group led by the current shareholders of Rockstar purchased the portfolio for $4.5 billion.

Despite losing in its attempt to acquire the patents-in-suit at auction, Google has infringed and continues to infringe the patents-in-suit."

The suits against the six manufacturing companies each assert the same patents—either six or seven of them, depending on the target. The patents cover a variety of innovations and have different inventors. One patent filed in 1997 for a "navigation tool for graphical user interface" describes a way of navigating through electronic documents. Another describes an "Internet protocol filter," and a third patent describes an "integrated message center."

The case was filed in the Eastern District of Texas, long considered a district friendly to patent plaintiffs.

Read the Rockstar Consortium’s Home page here

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