Apple and Google are reportedly in a bidding war for bankrupt Canadian telecom Nortel's patent portfolio. Unnamed sources speaking to Reuters confirmed that the two companies—among others—participated in the first round of bids on Nortel's IP portfolio, the most highly prized being patents related to 3G and 4G wireless tech.
The source claims that, following the first round of bids, Nortel has grouped the patents into six different technology buckets—this will reduce the possibility that a single company will end up owning all of Nortel's patents. With more than 4,000 patents to Nortel's name, that still puts several hundred into each group, ranging from optical data to online advertising, PCs, and wireless tech.
None of the companies involved in the bidding have publicly disclosed their participation, but Reuters points out that RIM, Apple, and Google are seen as "likely bidders" when it comes to Nortel's patents on 3G and 4G handsets and networking. Nortel had previously been one of the first entrants into fixed and mobile WiMAX in the US (the 4G tech used by Sprint and Clearwire), but later got out to focus on Long Term Evolution (LTE, the 4G tech used by Verizon).
Those LTE patents are likely what Apple is most interested in, since it's rumored that a "Verizon iPhone" will come with LTE support. Since Verizon plans to have LTE coverage in 30+ cities by the end of this year and plenty more in 2011, such a move would definitely be advantageous for Apple.
Source: ars technica