Trolls, geeks and lots of lawyers

The Deal Magazine


Nortel Networks Inc.'s auction of 6,000 patents and patent applications at the end of June was one of the most remarkable corporate transactions in recent years, a technology equivalent of the 1989 buyout of RJR Nabisco. Representatives from many of the world's largest tech companies huddled in conference rooms at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP in New York to bid on intellectual property that they hoped would give them a significant advantage in the market for smartphones.

While the cross-licensing agreements of the '60s and '70s gave companies access to one another's technology, TI's licensing program of the '80s allowed it to wring billions of dollars of revenue out of patents on obsolescent technology.

IBM Corp. saw the same opportunity when personal-computer clones began to appear in the early '80s. Most clone companies didn't have any patents and weren't inventing anything, says Robert Barr, the executive director of the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology at the University of California, Berkeley and formerly worldwide patent counsel for Cisco Systems Inc., though the clone licenses included a clause giving IBM the right to license any patents that it wanted from the clone. 10/14/2011