Today’s definitive agreement for purchase of the Rockstar patents by a subsidiary of patent clearinghouse RPX Corporation, with simultaneous licensing of the portfolio to more than 30 technology companies, including Cisco, represents a victory for common sense. It also puts to rest a wayward and misguided business model that threatened to add costs to industry and consumers with no benefits to innovation or economic development. This step should also send a strong message to companies who toy with the idea of “monetizing” their patent portfolios through transactions with private equity and non-practicing-entities, or by shaking down other industry participants: They will find themselves isolated. In short, they will end up as net losers if they initiate a game based on short-sighted greed.
We’re taking a different approach. Working with RPX, we devised a licensing model where even those who chose not to join with more than thirty of their peers in this purchase will still have the chance to license on comparable and fair terms. Kent Walker, the general counsel of Google, was instrumental in pulling this together. Brad Smith and Bruce Sewell, the general counsels of Microsoft and Apple, deserve huge credit for working with the other Rockstar members – Blackberry, Ericsson and Sony – to reach a consensus that produced this positive result.
The origins of “Rockstar” are found in the smartphone patent wars that began several years ago. While we have no quarrel with companies using their patents to stop the copying of differentiating features without permission (and in fact commented favorably on the direct Apple-Samsung litigation), the driving up of patent valuations as each side in the war sought to bulk up for battle ended up serving no one other than lawyers and middlemen. Rockstar’s litigation strategy turned out to be inconclusive, keeping many lawyers very busy but with little money changing hands to date.