Rockstar: How Apple and Microsoft armed 4,000 patent warheads

“In many ways, Scott Widdowson is your typical electrical engineer,” Robert McMillan reports for Wired. “But Widdowson is a specialist. He’s one of 10 reverse-engineers working full time for a stealthy company funded by some of the biggest names in technology: Apple, Microsoft, Research In Motion, Sony, and Ericsson.”

“Called the Rockstar Consortium, the 32-person outfit has a single-minded mission: It examines successful products, like routers and smartphones, and it tries to find proof that these products infringe on a portfolio of over 4,000 technology patents once owned by one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies,” McMillan reports. “When a Rockstar engineer uncovers evidence of infringement, the company documents it, contacts the manufacturer, and demands licensing fees for the patents in question. The demand is backed by the implicit threat of a patent lawsuit in federal court.”

“Rockstar has its roots in last year’s high-profile auction of 6,000 patents owned by the bankrupt Canadian telco giant Nortel,” McMillan reports. ” The final sale price was $4.5 billion, and Rockstar Bidco, as it was then called, was the winner. Since then, Rockstar Bidco has given way to a new entity, called Rockstar Consortium. And for the first time, the consortium’s strategy for the Nortel patents is clear. Ownership of about 2,000 of the patents was shifted to the individual companies that won the auction: Apple, Microsoft, et al. But the remaining 4,000 have been transferred to Rockstar Consortium, which is now a pure patent exploitation operation funded by all of the winning bidders except EMC, which has dropped out of the picture, according to Veschi. Rockstar is a special kind of company. Because it doesn’t actually make anything, it can’t be countersued in patent cases.

Tons more in the full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Fred Mertz” for the heads up.]

Related articles:
US Department of Justice approves Nortel patents purchase by Apple-led ‘Rockstar Consortium’ – March 12, 2012
Why Google lashed out at Apple and Microsoft over patents: Android is in deep trouble and its top lawyer knows it – August 4, 2011
Google legal honcho: Apple, Oracle, Microsoft use ‘bogus patents’ to wage hostile campaign against sainted Android – August 3, 2011
Google’s Schmidt: Apple not responding with innovation, they’re responding with lawsuits – July 19, 2011
In wake of Nortel patent auction loss, Google general counsel calls for patent reform – July 26, 2011
Apple paying more than half $4.5 billion price tag on Nortel patent trove – July 22, 2011
Apple, Google gird for bidding war over InterDigital patent trove – July 20, 2011
U.S. and Canadian courts approve sale of Nortel patent trove to Apple-led ‘Rockstar’ consortium – July 11, 2011
How Apple led the high-stakes Nortel patent win against Google, sealing Ballmer’s promise – July 10, 2011
Google’s Schmidt worried and disappointed over Apple consortium’s Nortel patent win – July 8, 2011
RUMOR: Apple gets outright ownership of Nortel’s LTE (4G) patents – July 5, 2011
Google’s Android intellectual property headache looks set to become a migraine – July 5, 2011
Leaked bids show how Apple-led ‘Rockstar’ beat Google to Nortel patents – July 2, 2011
Apple consortium wins $4.5 billion Nortel patent trove auction; Google, Intel lose bidding battle – July 1, 2011
Intel gets antitrust approval to bid on Nortel patents – June 24, 2011
Apple gets U.S. antitrust approval to bid for Nortel patent trove – June 23, 2011
Apple, Intel among bidders for Nortel patent trove – June 17, 2011
Nortel delays patent auction one week citing significant interest – June 16, 2011
RIM looks to outbid Apple, Google, and Nokia for Nortel’s patent treasure trove – April 18, 2011
Google bids $900 million for 6,000 Nortel telecom patents in quest to boost patent portfolio – April 4, 2011
Apple reportedly bidding for Nortel patent portfolio – December 13, 2010


  1. So, by extension, that makes Apple a patent troll?
    I know they need to recoup the price but really…?
    Funny how cosy Microsoft and Apple have become.

    1. You miss the point. Google has been passing some of its patents to mysterious companies that make nothing. They did this for the soul reason of setting up a TROLL that they controlled…….to go after Apple and others…..but mainly Apple.

      Rockstar Consortium is the response!!!!

      1. Nice spin.

        It dosen’t matter how you twist this thing around, this is the very thing everyone on these forums complains about, patent trolling.

        It is the very thing wrong with patents period.

        Think Different – yeah right – just the next great american corporate shithole in the making.

    1. And just what the heck got you sidetracked from patents, patent trolling, and Apple to politics? Not only that, you’re a Brit so please refrain from starting flame wars about US politics. You have enough problems without stirring our pot.

  2. Definitely not happy about this.

    I see this as another example of how broken our patent system has become, where legitimate companies who produce real products are forced to create a “patent troll” entity to counter all the attacks they’re getting from patent trolls and FRAND-pledged patents.

    Even though they probably had little choice but to go this route, shame on Apple et al nonetheless.

    1. So you want Apple to just sit and let Google throw bogus TROLLS at them. Shame on you! Not Apple. Apple is doing what they need to do. And yes, they are forced to do this.

    2. It is a shame. Even the most innovative company must work the system to stay ahead. And they’ve had to start lobbying.

      Broken system.

  3. People, you are missing the issue. Global Thermonuclear war!! MAD Mutually Assured Destruction.

    For those that are too young to remember, if your enemy builds nuclear weapons, you do too, so that even if they strike first, you have enough power left to totally wipe them out.

    Picture if these patents have enough power to totally stop Samsung from selling to the western world???

    Apple did not start this war. They created the finest and best smart phone in the world, the finest mp3 player in the world, the finest iPad in the world ( ok the only iPads in the world 🙂 ) and then Samsung and HTC started their photo copiers and tried to kill Apple with its own inventions.

    Nuff said. GTW. 🙂

  4. No this doesn’t make Apple a Patent Troll. Apple actually makes and sells products that use the technology that the patents cover.

    Speaking of Trolls!

    1. The definition of “patent troll” is an entity which sues others over patents, but makes no products and thus can’t be countersued.

      This is made clear in the article itself: “Rockstar is a special kind of company. Because it doesn’t actually make anything, it can’t be countersued in patent cases.” (For “special kind of company”, insert “patent troll”.)

      The moment the Rockstar Consortium sues anyone, then, it will be a patent troll, regardless of which companies are backing it or what products those companies make.

      This is why the patent system needs major, major reform. The fact that legitimate, product-making companies must resort to patent troll tactics is just another sign in a long, long series of signs illustrating this.

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