Affiliate Disclosure
If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Read our ethics policy.

Google purchases IBM inventions as patent arms race looms


Google announced on Thursday that it had acquired a group of patents from IBM, even as growing interest in intellectual property suggests a coming legal face-off between Apple and Google.

Bloomberg reports that Google struck a deal with IBM earlier this month to bolster its IP portfolio with a batch of patents. “Like many tech companies, at times we’ll acquire patents that are relevant to our business,” the company said Thursday in an e-mailed statement.

The Mountain View, Calif., search giant has cast itself as a reluctant player in the patent market. “The tech industry has a significant problem,” Kent Walker, who serves as general counsel for the company, said earlier this week. “Software patents are kind of gumming up the works of innovation.”

The company is calling for large-scale patent reform, even as its Android mobile operating system faces infringement suits on at least six fronts. But, competitors assert that Google is critical of the patent system because it finds itself outmatched by larger, more established technology companies with bigger patent portfolios.

Google is said to be interested in acquiring InterDigital, a Pennsylvania-based company with patents related to high-speed mobile phone networks. Reports that Apple and Google may bid on the company drove its value up more than 50 percent to $3.2 billion earlier this week.

Photography pioneer Kodak has revealed that it is shopping its digital imaging patents around after seeing the high level of interest, and subsequent bidding, in the Nortel auction.

Late last month, Apple and six other companies, including Microsoft, Research in Motion and Sony, faced off against Google and Intel in a bidding war that drove up the price for Nortel's 6,000 patents to an unprecedented $4.5 billion.

Walker called the deal the "biggest patents sale in the history of the world," adding that his company is looking into "other opportunities" to expand its portfolio. Nortel's patents were said to be of high-value to Apple and Google because they contained vital inventions related to the 4G Long-Term Evolution wireless networking standard.

Google's interest in intellectual property may also have been piqued by a recent ITC ruling that found HTC had violated two of Apple's patents. Patent experts have suggested that the violations in question may be part of the Android architecture and could extend to "every Android device out there."

Meanwhile, Google executive Eric Schmidt has promised that his company will "make sure" that HTC does not lose its suit with Apple.

Walker has compared the current patent situation to a nuclear arms race that will eventually "settle into mutual assured destruction,” noting that “these fights are an arduous and expensive way to do it."