Will the Rockstar Lawsuits Impact WebRTC?
As you may have heard, Rockstar has filed its first set of lawsuits using the vast Nortel patent portfolio. Rockstar is the legal entity created by Microsoft, Apple, RIM, Ericsson, and Sony to buy the Nortel patents. They outbid Google to the sum of $4.5B to buy a large set of core patents in the telecommunications space. The patents were far ranging as Nortel had limited the distribution of patents in business sales to those that were only used in that business. So all the general and valuable cross-portfolio patents were held by Nortel to the end and sold to Rockstar. At the time, many knowledgeable technology insiders saw Rockstar as the ultimate patent troll, an entity with a huge stock of valuable patents and no products to countersue over.
Now Rockstar has filed patent lawsuits against Google and seven Android phone vendors: Asustek, HTC, Huawei, LG Electronics, Pantech, Samsung, and ZTE. The lawsuits focus on six patents titled "associative search engine.” The patents describe "an advertisement machine which provides advertisements to a user searching for desired information within a data network." The oldest patent in the case is US Patent No. 6,098,065, with a filing date of 1997. The most recent patent in the suit was filed in 2007 and granted in 2011.
A key question for all of us in the WebRTC community is whether it will impact WebRTC. While the impact of this suit may be to begin trying to get Google to pay royalties, is there another suit to protect the Apple FaceTime garden and Lync/Skype from WebRTC? Obviously it is not clear whether this will happen, but some of the core VoIP patents that Nortel owned are now in Rockstar.
Obviously the big focus is on Android and the impact that Android is having on the five phone vendor businesses represented by the owners of Rockstar. The ability of owners to have a patent troll like Rockstar seems to stretch the boundaries of the patent system, but also seems to be within the legal rights of patent owners to assign their patents to another entity. According to Rockstar's CEO, John Veschi, "Pretty much anyone out there is infringing.” If Rockstar can use the Nortel patents on behalf of its owners with the impunity of a patent troll the results could be significant, for the industry at large and potentially for WebRTC.