The Justice Department is looking into the bidding for patents being sold by Nortel Networks over fears they could be used to quash competition, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The bankrupt Canadian telecom-equipment maker is unloading 6,000 patents for technology that includes wireless video, Wi-Fi, and LTE mobile data technology. According to the Journal, regulators worry that the patents could be a bludgeon for acquirers to wield against rivals as they move into emerging markets.
The Justice Department seems particularly concerned about Apple and Google. The Journal reports that the agency's antitrust division is reviewing Google's $900 million opening bid for the patents, though it's found nothing to take action over yet. And the agency is also talking with Apple, no stranger to patent disputes, which could also enter the bidding.
Patents have become an increasingly potent tool in technology, as small companies sue larger ones for infringement, and large companies pay dearly to accumulate patents to protect themselves from future litigation. In April, the Justice Department forced a group of companies buying patents from Novell, including Apple and Microsoft, to license rather than buy some of the 882 patents and patent applications over worries about the impact on open-source software.