Semiconductor IP News and Trends Blog
What is the Freshness Date on Nortel’s IP Patents?
The bankrupt telecommunication company’s creditors are anxious to realize a monetary return. But why are Nortel’s wireless patents even available for auction? Shouldn’t many of the over 6,000 patents already have expired? By association, what is the average length of semiconductor design or manufacturing IP patents?
The battle lines were drawn. On one side were Google and Intel. On the other was a Microsoft- and Apple-led consortium. The prize was a portfolio of 6,000 wireless patents from the bankrupt telecom giant Nortel.
The spoils of this battle will go to the Microsoft and Apple-led consortium for a winning bid of $4.5bn. Although the Google team lost, they did so in style, at times bidding with mathematical constants such as Brun’s constant ($1,902,160,540), Meissel-Mertens constant ($2,614,972,128), and even pi ($3.14159 billion) once the initial bidding had reached $3 billion.
[Fascinating side note: Did you know that Thomas R. Nicely heuristically estimated Brun’s constant and simultaneously discovered Intel’s Pentium FDIV floating point unit bug? Google really does have a awesome sense of humor.]
The interest in these patents, which represent a wealth of intellectual property, made me wonder why the patents were even up for auction. Sure, the group handling Nortel’s bankruptcy was trying to find any kind of monetary compensation. But why are these patents even available? To see my point, consider other technology patents.
Years ago, I interviewed Raminda Madurawe concerning the expiration of key FPGA patents from Xilinx and Altera, (see “The Next Wave of FPGAs.”) Most of these patents expired after a mere 16 years in the market. Surely many of the over 6,000 Nortel patients must have been older than 16 years? This made me wonder what criteria is used to decide when a technical patent should expire?
Patents don’t last forever. In the US, the term of a new patent for an invention is 20 years from the date on which the application for the patent was filed. Patents can be extended, but not indefinitely.
For that matter, what is the typical lifespan of a semiconductor design patent, e.g., RAM ultra low leakage, low power IP targeted at 180nm. Does anyone know? I’ll return to this topic with my patented response once more information is available. (And yes, I do know the meaning of copyright, but it just didn’t fit as well as “patented.”)