Google strikes back at BT with patent suit, but mediation looms

Google(s goog) has sued BT(s bt), the British telecoms giant, in both the U.S. and the U.K. over alleged patent infringement, but the facts behind this and other disagreements between the two firms remain murky.

The patents in the U.S. suit (CNET located a copy of the court documents) mostly originated from IBM(s ibm) – two cover the reservation of system resources for assuring quality of service, and one deals with assigning connection capacity in a multi-tiered data-processing network. A fourth patent, which was originally obtained by Fujitsu, also covers a “gateway for internet telephone”.

All pretty broad and, according to Google(s goog), infringed by BT’s wholesale quality of service products and OneVoice unified communications system. Google is asking the U.S. courts to order BT to stop infringing and to pay Google damages.

The British suit is more mysterious. While some overnight reports suggested that BT had not yet been served with that suit, the company told me this morning that this has indeed happened. Beyond that, it refused to comment on the specifics. It’s worth reminding ourselves here that the British patent system is quite different from that of the U.S. – it is far trickier there to patent “business methods” — so it would be a mistake to assume a direct correlation between the two cases.

However, I did get some interesting information from a source within BT: firstly, that the company sees this as “predictable” retaliation for BT’s lawsuit against Google (filed more than a year ago), but also that that 2011 case is going to mediation this coming July. In my own analysis, this makes it possible that Google’s suit against BT is intended as leverage for that meeting.

Google itself has said in a statement that it “always [sees] litigation as a last resort” and is defending itself against both the 2011 suit and BT’s “arming [of] patent trolls”, which a source said was a reference to a little-reported case last year involving a non-practising entity (NPE) called Suffolk Technologies. Suffolk sued Google and AOL using a BT patent, and BT had apparently sold that patent to Suffolk on the condition that it would get a cut of any proceeds from resulting lawsuits.

This story was clarified at 9:40 a.m. PT after suggesting that Google was referring to Steelhead as the patent troll in its statement. New information suggests the company is referring to Suffolk Technologies. In the Steelhead case, BT has always been adamant that it receives no share of any lawsuit proceeds.