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Apple- and Microsoft-backed patent group ends its war on Android

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And just like that, the Rockstar Consortium's lawsuit campaign against Android is over. The patent holding group (backed by Apple, BlackBerry, Ericsson, Microsoft and Sony) has sold all of its commonly held patents to clearinghouse RPX for $900 million, or a fraction of the $4.5 billion the total patent pool was worth a few years ago. Rockstar will accordingly drop the lawsuits that it still had left, including those leveled against HTC, LG and Samsung. Don't worry that RPX will promptly turn around and sue someone else, either. It already has a deal to license those patents for defensive purposes to a group of 30-plus companies, including Google and Cisco, while the Rockstar companies get to keep their licenses.

The move winds down a brief but nasty chapter in smartphone patent disputes. The Consortium was formed in 2011 with the goal of acquiring 6,000 patents (mostly for chips, optical and wireless tech) from an ailing Nortel. Even then, the intentions were pretty clear: Rockstar was determined to keep the intellectual property out of Google's hands and eventually sue Android's partners in order to punish the competition. To a limited extent, this strategy worked. Cisco, Google and Huawei settled their respective suits, and it looked like the holdouts would have to give in for a while.

The firms behind Rockstar haven't said just why they're bowing out, but patent suits aren't the hot stuff they used to be. Apple has been negotiating truces with its former targets and wrapping up its remaining lawsuits; BlackBerry doesn't have as much clout as it used to, and Microsoft now gets royalties from most Android manufacturers. Simply put, these companies likely don't have the heart (or in some cases, resources) to keep their battles going. Cashing out lets them recoup some of their investments and focus more on competing through their products, not the courtroom -- y'know, like they were supposed to be doing all along.

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