Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Liberty Media's TruePosition acquires Skyhook, touts its patents: implications for Google lawsuit?

Skyhook Wireless, a company that has been suing Google for more than three years over various location-positioning patents, with a trial likely to take place (finally) this year, has just been acquired by Liberty Media's TruePosition subsidiary. The official announcement says that "Skyhook's technology provides TruePosition with another important tool in [its] technology and patent portfolio that perfectly complements [its] existing offerings" (emphasis added).

As Re/code mentions in its report on the deal, the [Skyhook-Google] court battles have revealed all sorts of interesting information about the control Google has exerted over the Android ecosystem". Google's heavy-handedness concerning Android drew a lot of additional attention last week after Google's mobile app distribution agreements with Samsung and HTC were published. Also last week, Galen Gruman wrote on Infoworld: "Meet AOSP, the other [i.e., open-source] Android, while you still can", going on to explain how an increasing part of the Android codebase is closed and the open-source components are nearing the point at which they won't represent a competitive mobile operating system.

It's too early to tell what effect Liberty Media's acquisition of Skyhook Wireless will have on the pending Google patent litigation. If the case does go to trial this year, Google will face a well-heeled opponent that can afford even more protracted litigation and (even international, if necessary) escalation. But the "If" is the question. While it would make sense for Liberty Media to aggressively enforce Skyhook's IP (which was apparently the reason for the deal) in order to monetize what it has acquired, it's also possible that Skyhook's new owners will be more willing to settle the matter with Google. But even if Liberty Media is prepared to settle, Google is not known to be exceedingly willing to pay patent royalties, so the case may have to go to trial anyway. It wouldn't be logical for Liberty Media to acquire IP and tout it in a press release only to dismiss a case without getting royalties. In doing so it would devalue Skyhook's patent portfolio and call into question the rationale for the transaction. So I think there still is a fairly high probability of the case going to trial.

If you'd like to be updated on the smartphone patent disputes and other intellectual property matters I cover, please subscribe to my RSS feed (in the right-hand column) and/or follow me on Twitter @FOSSpatents and Google+.

Share with other professionals via LinkedIn: