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Nortel's patents more valuable than its products

Nortel’s patents were slightly more valuable than its products, as the transactions for Nortel’s product groups combined did not quite measure up to the single deal for its intellectual property.

The Nortel patents sold this week for $4.5 billion to a consortium of vendors, while previous deals for Nortel’s four key product groups – Enterprise, Carrier VoIP, Wireless and Metro Ethernet – netted just about $4 billion.

HISTORY: The rise and fall of Nortel

Ericsson paid just under $2 billion for the company's CDMA wireless and data switching divisions, while Avaya paid just under $1 billion for its enterprise networking business. Ciena paid $770 million for Nortel’s MEN, while Genband coughed up just under $300 million for VoIP.

The economies of scale tipped the scale. Apple, EMC, Ericsson, Microsoft, Research In Motion and Sony all have skin in the $4.5 billion pot, which they covet for its 6,000 patents spanning wireless, wireless 4G, data networking, optical, voice, Internet, service provider and semiconductors.

The consortium beat out Google, which made an initial offer of $900 million.

Pricing the assets for auction – setting the floor for initial offers -- was a challenge as intellectual property asset sales of this size are rare, according to one participant.

“We found it to be very difficult because there were not many comparable transactions that had happened before,” says David Berten, partner and founder of Global IP Law group, Nortel’s counsel in the sale. “There was nothing of this size ever transacted. You let the market essentially set the price.”

And price was the sole objective. That the intellectual property was spread across six vendors instead of one or two or three did not affect the sale, Berten says.

“In bankruptcy, there are no non-financial drivers to the deal,” he says.

The deal has to clear Canadian and U.S. courts, which will review it at a joint hearing on July 11. After that, Nortel will essentially exist in name only as its last vestiges are wrung dry by nostalgics and litigants.

Read more about lan and wan in Network World's LAN & WAN section.

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