Nathan Myhrvold just jumped out of the shadows with a scary mask on, yelling "Boo!" at Motorola Mobility (NYS: MMI) and its would-be acquirer Google (NAS: GOOG) . Hey, Nate, you know it's not Halloween for another three weeks or so, right?
Myhrvold's privately held patent-holding firm, Intellectual Ventures, has so far preferred to stay behind the scenes, collecting more technology patents and signing lucrative licensing deals. The lawsuits have mostly been handled through no-name subsidiaries such as Oasis Research, the empty office in Texas at the center of a brilliant NPR chronicle of Intellectual Ventures and our broken patent system.
That's changing now. Myhrvold's feared venture is throwing its considerable weight right at Motorola by filing a patent infringement suit in Delaware. A Motorola-designed "entertainment device" (read: Android smartphone) is allegedly stepping all over six of IV's more than 35,000 patents. IV wants a jury trial and an as-yet unnamed amount of cold, hard damage reparations.
It's not the first suit that IV has filed under its own name, but it is the first in the mobile space where patents have become a white-hot topic lately. Since Motorola is in the process of being swallowed whole by Android godfather Google, you could say that the venture has filed suit against Big G. And, according to legal documents filed in an unrelated, preemptive lawsuit by chip company Xilinx (NAS: XLNX) , Google is one of many high-profile tech companies that hold a financial interest in Intellectual Ventures itself. Others include graphics-chip builder NVIDIA (NAS: NVDA) and networking veteran Cisco Systems (NAS: CSCO) , though data provider S&P Capital IQ has no record of their signing any licensing deals.
Assuming that the Googorola merger passes regulatory muster, then, IV is indirectly suing itself.
Now, it's possible that Google signed some easy-to-miss little licensing deal behind closed doors in return for a small ownership interest. German software giant SAP (NYS: SAP) , South Korean hardware hombre Samsung, and Canadian handset designer Research In Motion (NAS: RIMM) are all customers of Intellectual Ventures, according to CapitalIQ, and also show up in that long list of parties with a financial interest -- like Google. And if that's the case, Google's IV licenses could affect any litigation and discussions with Motorola. Seems like a waste of legal resources if you ask me.
If all this legal sleight-of-hand action is making your head spin, let me direct you to safer hunting grounds far away from the specter of patent terrors.
That NPR investigation is well worth a listen, too.
At the time thisarticle was published Fool contributorAnders Bylundowns shares of Google but holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. The Motley Fool owns shares of Google, Cisco Systems, and Research In Motion.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Cisco Systems, Google, and NVIDIA and writing puts in NVIDIA. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. You can check outAnders' holdings and a concise bio, follow him onTwitterorGoogle+, or peruseour Foolish disclosure policy.
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