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Canada, US courts approve Apple-led group's $4.5B purchase of Nortel patents


Courts in both Canada and the U.S. have approved the proposed $4.5 billion purchase of more than 6,000 wireless patents from bankrupt Canadian telecommunications equipment maker Nortel by Apple and five other companies.

Reuters reports that judges for bankruptcy courts in both countries granted approval for the sale on Monday. Nortel filed for bankruptcy in 2009 and has steadily been selling off assets, with the recent patent auction raising more money than all other asset sales combined.

The run-up to the auction generated a high level of interest, with major technology corporations viewing the trove as crucial to the transition to next-generation of wireless technology. Four days of intense bidding resulted in a bidding war between Apple and Google that drove the price up more than three times what was expected by analysts.

During the auction, Apple teamed up with a consortium consisting of Microsoft, Research in Motion, EMC, Ericsson and Sony, while Google partnered with Intel in bidding for the patents. Given that most of the members of Apple's "Rockstar" group are competitors, analysts have seen the unlikely alliance as an aggressive move against Google's Android mobile operating system.

Google's failure to win the auction surprised many, as the search giant had placed the starting bid of $900 million and announced strong intentions to bid for the patents. The company holds a smaller portfolio than some of its older rivals and has been hobbled in its efforts to defend Android vendors from infringement claims from competitors, including Microsoft and Apple.

Though Nortel's patents span a range of technologies, the collection's most desirable intellectual property pertains to 4G Long-Term Evolution. Apple reportedly paid $2 billion for "outright ownership" of the set of LTE patents, while other members each paid around $500 million for licenses to the cache. Storage maker EMC is said to have negotiated a side deal for exclusive ownership of a small set of patents.

Legal experts have noted that Apple, with close to $70 billion in cash reserves, could have purchased the patents on its own and may have chosen to partner with others in order to diminish the chances of the deal being blocked over anti-trust concerns.

Apple and other interested bidders were scrutinized by federal regulators ahead of receiving approval to bid, though the Cupertino, Calif., company received extra attention over concerns that it would wield any patents it received against competitors. Ultimately, the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice elected to allow Apple, Google and others to participate in the auction.

Lisa Schweitzer of the law firm Cleary Gottleib Steen & Hamilton, which represents Nortel, expects the transaction to close in about a month, adding that ""there's no antitrust risk to the deal." According to her, the auction was "record breaking in terms of this case and in the patent industry generally."