Cable companies sue Apple’s ‘Rockstar Consortium’ over patent conspiracy


Three years ago a consortium consisting of Apple, Microsoft, BlackBerry and several other tech giants purchased thousands of patents from communications expert Nortel. They have since tried using the patents to sue a number of other companies, with little success.

Well this week the group, aptly-named the Rockstar Consortium, got a taste of its own medicine. Five US cable companies, including Charter Communications and others, filed a lawsuit against the shell corporation for engaging in what it calls an illegal patent conspiracy…

According to the complaint, which was filed last Friday in a Delaware federal court, Rockstar plans to continue moving its standards-essential patents through shell companies to avoid obligations that would require it to license its patents under fair and reasonable terms.

GigaOM has more details on the filing:

The cable companies claim that Rockstar refuses to even discuss licensing terms and is demanding royalties without even disclosing which patents it is asserting; they also claim that Rockstar had been forcing its targets into non-disclosure agreements that forbid them from discussing the lawsuits with other companies.

The cable companies also claim that Rockstar intimidated accused infringers by suggesting that failure to take a license to Rockstar’s entire portfolio would place a cloud of uncertainty over their business and would, ultimately, result in those parties being subjected to an endless cycle of patent enforcement through serial litigation.

The cable companies are asking the court to punish Rockstar, claiming that the misuse of the patents should forbid it from asserting them. They also want the Nortel patents declared subject to so-called FRAND terms, and feel that Rockstar should pay for breach of contract.

It’s interesting to see how this has played out. At the time, Apple’s group got into a very public bidding war with Google over these patents, and many folks thought the search giant lost out big time when it lost the battle. But now it just looks like it avoided a big headache.