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Mobile Patent Auction May Bring More Than $1 Billion

The last assets of Nortel Networks, the former high-tech giant, are to be auctioned Monday, as it sells off more than 6,000 patents. The bankrupt Canadian company was once a leader in research and development in the telecom industry.

Google has already aired a $900 million bid for the U.S. and international patents, which focus on mobile video and wireless networks, as well as Internet search. With the starting bid that high, it's likely the final price could easily top $1 billion.

As Dan Karpenchuk reported from Toronto for NPR's Newscast, "Sales of Nortel assets have so far totaled about $3.2 billion. And this final auction is expected to bring in another $1.5 billion.

Google's interest is tied to its gains in the smartphone sector, where its Android operating system has made strong gains. Competing bids have reportedly come in from Apple and Intel, according to Maureen O'Gara, of the website Sys-Con. Research In Motion (parent of BlackBerry) and Microsoft are also said to be involved, either directly or through bidding partnerships.

A report from the CBC has more details about the technology covered by the patents:

The Nortel patents include advanced wireless network technology called Long-Term Evolution networks, which are starting to rollout globally and are able to handle lots of data for TV watching, music listening and video streaming.

The LTE patents are considered jewels in the remaining Nortel assets due to the popularity of mobile devices like smartphones and computer tablets.

The patents also include Wi-Fi technology that connects devices to the Internet when in range of a wireless network as well as data networking, Web search and social networking technology.

A post by Forbes' blog The Docket explores the possibility that "patent trolls" may emerge to try to gain control of the patents and use them to extract licensing or penalty fees from companies. Because of that possibility, some are looking at the auction as a potential turning point for mobile computing.

The auction is taking place in a Manhattan law office. Any deals that emerge from it are subject to final approval in July.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.