With Bidders Watching, Interdigital Goes On A Mobile Patent Offensive

Interdigital is out to prove it’s a serious threat in the mobile patent battles that have consumed this industry. A week after Google (NSDQ: GOOG) and Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) were said to be considering a bid for the company, Interdigital made the now-familiar walk down to the International Trade Commission to file lawsuits against Nokia (NYSE: NOK), Huawei, and ZTE.

And so it begins anew; another mobile patent case to consider. For the uninitiated, Interdigital is a chip design company that seems to make most of its money from patent licensing, with nearly 10,000 patents spread across the world related to wireless chips found in modems for mobile phones and USB sticks. It chose seven patents to assert against the three companies listed in its complaint, which was also filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware according to a press release (PDF).

“The complaint alleges that the Respondents have engaged in unfair trade practices by making for importation into the United States, importing, and selling after importation, certain 3G wireless devices, including WCDMA and cdma2000 mobile phones, USB sticks, mobile hotspots, and tablets, and components of such devices that infringe seven of InterDigital’s U.S. patents,” it said in the release.

It seeks the usual remedy of having the ITC decide that the allegedly infringing products be banned from being sold in the U.S. Nokia and Huawei told Reuters they would defend themselves against the complaint without addressing any specifics.

So what is this really about? Interdigital decided a week ago to “explore strategic alternatives,” which basically means it put itself on the auction block waving a big stack of mobile patents. As you might have heard, mobile patents are quite valuable these days as everyone with a mobile patent sues everyone else, with a consortium of companies outbidding Google with a $4.5 billion offer for patents formerly held by Nortel. That has forced Google to consider other options to try and plug the hole in its Android strategy by shoring up its weak patent portfolio.

Interdigital was said last week to be one of those potential options, and within hours of Google’s reported interest in the company Apple was also said to be considering a bid. The new complaints could be a test case for the value of Interdigital’s patents: if the ITC finds in favor of the company, the price could go up. Interdigital’s stock has nearly doubled since it said it would consider selling the company amid the land rush in mobile patents, and the company is currently valued at $3.3 billion.

For more perspective on a topic that makes me shake my head every time I consider it, check out NPR’s hour-long special on the mobile patent mess entitled “When Patents Attack!