Google on Wednesday sued BT Group, the UK telecoms company, for patent infringement, the first time the internet search group has launched such a case in its own name.
Google has been an outspoken critic of the escalation of patent lawsuits in the tech industry, complaining that its rivals often hide behind litigation rather than competing on innovation. However, it described its legal complaint as something it had been forced into by an earlier lawsuit brought by BT.
“We have always seen litigation as a last resort and we work hard to avoid lawsuits,” Google said. “But BT has brought several meritless patent claims against Google and our customers.”
It accused the telecoms company of “arming patent trolls” by transferring patents to other companies that then sued Google in their own names. “When faced with these kind of actions, we will defend ourselves,” Google said.
“BT does not comment on pending litigation,” the British company said.
Google’s complaint, filed in federal court in the central district of California, comes more than a year after the search company was sued by BT in the US over six patents covering a range of technologies used in Google services including music, maps and advertising, as well as its Android operating system.
Google’s countersuit accuses BT of infringing against four of its patents covering internet communications technologies.
The US company is no stranger to legal skirmishes over patents, with its Motorola mobile handset subsidiary embroiled in fights against Apple and Microsoft over smartphone technology. Some parts of those actions, such as a complaint against Apple to the US International Trade Commission, were launched after Google’s acquisition of the company.
However, it has not previously launched any cases in its own name and has been deeply critical of rivals who turn to the courts.
“The tech world has recently seen an explosion in patent litigation, often involving low-quality software patents, which threatens to stifle innovation,” Kent Walker, the company’s general counsel, wrote in a blog post in 2011. At the time, he was explaining why Google was bidding to buy patents owned by Nortel Networks, the bankrupt Canadian communications company.
The four patents cited in the case against BT were all first issued to other technology companies, in two cases before Google itself had even been founded, and later acquired by the search company. Three of the patents were obtained by IBM, with the fourth based on an invention in Japan made by Fujitsu.
Google’s protest about patent trolls echoes a wider complaint from US tech companies about lawsuits brought by entities that have been set up solely to bring legal cases, rather than to use their patent holdings to support operating businesses.
Along with AOL, Google failed in an attempt this year to persuade a US judge to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Suffolk Technologies, a company that had acquired a patent from BT. The telecoms company retained a right to share in any of the profits that Suffolk made from enforcing the patent.
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