Google Tried Bidding Geeky Numbers For Nortel Patents; How About $3.14159 Billion?

from the taking-this-seriously? dept

Reuters has put together a nice recap of what happened inside the Nortel patent auction, which resulted in Apple, Microsoft, EMC, RIM, Ericsson & Sony getting the patents for $4.5 billion. There are a bunch of interesting bits of information in there, but one of the most bizarre is that rather than bidding round numbers, like pretty much everyone else, Google bid weird numbers that only geeks would recognize:
At the auction for Nortel Networks' wireless patents this week, Google's bids were mystifying, such as $1,902,160,540 and $2,614,972,128.

Math whizzes might recognize these numbers as Brun's constant and Meissel-Mertens constant, but it puzzled many of the people involved in the auction, according to three people with direct knowledge of the situation on Friday.

"Google was bidding with numbers that were not even numbers," one of the sources said.

"It became clear that they were bidding with the distance between the earth and the sun. One was the sum of a famous mathematical constant, and then when it got to $3 billion, they bid pi," the source said, adding the bid was $3.14159 billion.
Yes, they bid pi. Really not quite sure what to make of this. It could be Google hoped that they'd be able to "signal" to geeks their feelings about the whole process (which the company had been pretty clear about all along -- it didn't want to buy the patents, and seemed to think the whole process was stupid, but it felt compelled to, because it would be even worse if the patents ended up with someone else). However, it certainly does come off as pretty damn cocky -- an attitude that Google is frequently criticized for. Still, it also suggested the level of seriousness (i.e., not much) with which Google treated this whole process. It had to bid a lot of money, but the numbers acted as a bit of a protest for the mess which put them in a position where they felt they needed to do so.

The other interesting bit in the tick tock was how the groupings came about, with coalitions forming as different companies dropped out. Apparently, Intel bid heavily, and when it dropped out, there was a fight between Apple (who put together the winning coalition) and Google over who it would team up with. Intel eventually chose Google.

Of course, that setup makes the whole process seem even sillier. Once they get down to two "teams" why not then just all join forces and set the bid lower (divided among more partners), rather than continue to use each other to drive the bid higher. Well, there's one reason: if the winning bidder intends to use the patents against the losers... Google (with Intel's help) wasn't willing to go to $4.5 billion, but it seems likely they'll end up paying one way or another, down the road, thanks to the new "winners" of the patents.

Filed Under: geeky, numbers, patents, pi
Companies: google, nortel


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  1. identicon
    Cowardly Anon, 6 Jul 2011 @ 6:48am

    I have to say when I read this, it made me smile. It actually fell under the category of good news for me. I shared it with some of my co-workers and they all agreed. Google is awesome, and they just gave us a reminder as to why they are awesome.

    As to why Google would do this? To get people talking about it. "Google Bids 3mil on Patents", isn't as great a headline as "Google Offers Pi for Patents". It gives reporters, yourself included Mike, something to write about beyond what happens. You speculated and wondered and it made for a better story. A better story that people will remember. A better story that people will talk about.

    One of my co-workers didn't even know the Nortel patents were up for sale. Another didn't know patents could actually be bought.

    By doing this, Google is opening the lines of communication on a system that most people don't know or care about. And that is the true reason why Google is awesome.

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