Bankruptcy courts in Canada and the United States on Monday approved the sale of 6,000 patents held by defunct Nortel Networks Corp. to a partnership of six leading technology companies in a deal worth $4.5 billion US.
The ruling means that the purchasing group will now get access to Nortel patents and applications in internet and wireless technology, important for participants such as Microsoft Inc., which can use the technology to compete with the likes of Google Inc. and its Android handheld device.
The American Antitrust Institute, a Washington-based organization that opines on anti-trust and monopoly matters, asked the U.S. Department of Justice to examine the patent sale to the consortium, which includes Microsoft, Apple Inc., Research In Motion Inc., Sony, EMC Corp. and Ericsson.
"[The consortium's] collective control over the massive Nortel portfolio could enable and incent them to enforce the patents to suppress mobile device competition," the institute said in its letter.
The Department of Justice has said it is examining the patent sale.
Attorneys for Nortel and its official committee of unsecured creditors praised the results of the patent auction. Nortel attorney Lisa Schweitzer said the final price, which came after 19 rounds of bidding, is more than the combined total received from Nortel's previous bankruptcy asset sales. Including the patent sale, Nortel has realized roughly $7.7 billion from its asset sales.
"This truly is a ‘wow’ transaction," said David Botter, an attorney representing Nortel's official creditors committee.
Derrick Tay, an attorney representing Nortel in Canada, said the auction is a "shining example" of what can be achieved in a bankruptcy case.
"I don't believe a dollar was left on the table," Tay told Ontario Superior Court of Justice Judge Geoffrey Morawetz, who conducted the joint hearing with U.S. bankruptcy court Judge Kevin Gross in Delaware via videoconference.
Monday's decision represents the final word on Nortel, the once-dominant technology giant that failed to compete as the wireless world soared beyond first-generation cellphones. The patents, which raised four times the amount of cash expected, were the last remaining substantial asset the company could sell to cover outstanding debts.
The Canadian company filed for protection from its creditors in 2009 after a series of restructurings failed to improve profitability and an accounting scandal destroyed investor confidence in Nortel.
Nortel rode the initial phase of wireless technology in the early 1990s to global prominence. But the company took a financial pounding as the technology bubble burst in the late 1990s. As a result, Nortel spent the next few years writing off over-inflated assets and trying to sell telephone phone switches to a world that wanted smaller internet-friendly mobile devices.