Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division closed its investigations into three major acquisitions that were pending, opening the door to completion of these acquisitions by the companies involved. For Apple, the acquisition of patents from Nortel Networks Corporation and Novell Inc has been green lighted, clearing the way for the company to finalize the purchase of intellectual property.
Apple, Microsoft, RIM and some other players had joined together as "Rockstar Bidco" to acquire patents at the June 2011 Nortel bankruptcy auction. Nortel had a portfolio of approximately 6,000 patents and patent applications, including many "standard essential patents" that the new owners will be able to license to other "industry participants." What makes standard essential patents so valuable is that they become part of industry standards (e.g., 3G, 4G, Wi-Fi) and must be licensed by manufacturers who wish to create compatible devices.
Apple is also acquiring patents that were formerly owned by Novell and were acquired on behalf of Apple, Oracle, and EMC Corporation in April of 2011. It doesn't appear that Apple will be able to pull in license fees for these patents, as Novell had committed to cross-license the patents on a royalty-free basis for use in the "Linux system."
A third part of the DOJ announcement could affect Apple indirectly. The DOJ has now cleared the way for Google to acquire Motorola Mobility, which not only manufactures smartphones and tablets but also holds a portfolio of "approximately 17,000 issued patents and 6,800 (patent) applications." Once again, there are hundreds of "standard essential patents" that Google will be able to license to other companies.