The Wall Street Journal reported that the US Justice Department is “intensifying” an investigation into whether companies including Apple, Microsoft and RIM could use the patent portfolio they recently acquired from Nortel Networks to “unfairly hobble competing smartphones using Google’s Android software,” as it was separately reported that Google had strengthened its own patent armoury with an acquisition of intellectual property from IBM. Citing “people familiar with the matter,” the report said that the Justice Department is also talking to other industry players who could be negatively impacted by the actions of the group. So far, Apple, EMC, Ericsson, Microsoft, RIM and Sony, the group which acquired the Nortel patents for US$4.5 billion, has not stated what its intentions are, including whether the patents will be split up across the partners, or if they will be centrally held and licensed.
With Android having gained significant momentum in the mobile industry, a number of companies have seen the opportunity to use their patents to profit, even if they are not active in this market directly. Oracle has a lawsuit open against Google, alleging infringements of Java-related patents in Android, while Microsoft has also sought royalties from vendors alleging Android products infringe its own patents – with some reports suggesting that this could generate more revenue than its own Windows Phone 7 operating system business. As a relative newcomer to the industry, Google has not amassed a patent armoury with which to defend itself, and the company was a frontrunner in the race to acquire the Nortel assets. The company explicitly stated that it was interested in the assets as a way to protect itself against lawsuits. Blog SEO by the Sea said that in July 2011, more than 1,000 patents filed by IBM were assigned to Google, without stating how much had been paid.