Google Places Geeky Bids for Nortel Patents, Leaves Empty-handed

July 7, 2011
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How intimidated are other companies by Android? To what length are they willing to empty their purses just to make sure Android doesn’t get the upper hand? The answer to that is 4.5 billion U.S. dollars. That was the amount of money that a group of Android/Google rivals pooled together to make sure Google doesn’t get the 6,000 Nortel patents auctioned last week.

Google initially bid US$900 million for the whole pile of yummy wireless technology patents and patent applications owned by telecom equipment provider Nortel, now bankrupt, chopped to pieces, and sold piece by piece.

Google rears its geeky, math-intelligent head

The Internet search giant confounded other auction participants with bid values, which, on first look, seemed unusually random since the values weren’t round regular numbers normally expected in auctions.

For instance, Google made a bid of US$$1.902160540 billion and US$2.614972128 billion. The first value was a reference to Brun’s constant, and the second one was a reference to the Meissel-Mertens constant.

When the bidding got as high as US$3 billion, Google’s reps at the auction made an awesomely huge bid using a familiar value: US$3.14159 billion–in reference to the first few digits of π (pi), another mathematical constant.

Google’s representatives also reportedly bid other unusual values, such as the distance between the sun and the earth, in the rest of the auction.

Post-auction amusement

Post-auction reports generated interesting and geeky comments on Slashdot, with some comments saying Google’s financial officers should be glad that they didn’t take the next step and used τ (tau) billion dollars, which doubles the value of pi. Or, it could have been worse if Google’s team placed a bid value of googol dollars.

Another comment said, “All these bids are irrational numbers. I think the message is clear. Patents have irrational value,” to which another user reacted with “Ah, but Google have demonstrated that they’re transcendental instead of rational.”

Bid lost

Google lost the bid to a consortium of rival companies teaming up against Google–Apple, Microsoft, RIM, EMC, Ericsson, and Sony–which won Nortel’s gold mine of patents with its US$4.5 billion bid. According to reports, RIM contributed US$770 million, Ericsson added US$340 million, Apple put forth US$2 billion for 4G LTE patents, and Microsoft and Sony gave another US$1 billion.

After Google lost the Nortel auction, it is likely for Google to file an antitrust claim and a restraint of trade complaint. The other likely scenario would be for Google to sit on the defending end as the consortium sues Google over Android.

Google’s acquisition of the Nortel patents could have provided the company a strong defense, but Google must have found it more ridiculous to get it for US$4.5 billion.

Perhaps Google thinks that 4.5 billion dollars would be better spent on defense lawyers protecting Android. What do you think?

Image credits: Nicolo’ Canali De Rossi (Flickr)

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