Google's "Pi" In The Face

As we’re all well aware by now, Google did not win the rights to the 6,000+ Nortel wireless and mobile patents. Instead, a consortium featuring many of their main rivals did. That has to sting. But as more details emerge about the auction itself, it sure looks as if Google wasn’t taking the entire thing too seriously. And that’s too bad. Because Android may be royally screwed without those patents.

Specifically, Nadia Damouni of Reuters reports today that following their initial “stalking horse” bid to get the ball rolling, Google put forth bids of $1,902,160,540, $2,614,972,128 — and $3.14159 billion. If those numbers look familiar, it’s because you’re a nerd. Brun’s constant, Meissel-Mertens constant, and yes, Pi. That’s how Google was bidding on perhaps the most important auction they’ve ever been involved in.

Not surprisingly, those on the other end of the auction had no clue what Google was doing. And found their behavior erratic and odd.

“Google was bidding with numbers that were not even numbers,” sources told Reuters. “Either they were supremely confident or they were bored,” the same source said. This led Reuters to report:

It was not clear what strategy Google was employing, whether it wanted to confuse rival bidders, intimidate them, or simply express the irreverence that is part and parcel of its corporate persona. Whatever its reasons, Google’s shenanigans did not work.

No, they did not. And now the company looks like huge asses in retrospect.

It would have been one thing if Google had done this during the Spectrum auction in 2008 — which they never intended to win. They simply wanted to push the bidding high enough to ensure that the government would enforce the open rules on the sold spectrum (which Verizon ended up winning the biggest chunk of). But with the Nortel patents, Google absolutely did want to win. And many within the company expected to. Perhaps that led to this over-confidence and jackassery.

Sure, in hindsight you could say that Google wasn’t going to win anyway — Reuters also reports that Google was only willing to go as high as $4 billion and the winning bid ended up being $4.5 billion. But again, they did not know that at the time. They thought they were going to win and apparently thought they could have some fun in the process. Meanwhile, according to Reuters’ sources, they found this behavior aloof and off-putting. It certainly did not help Google’s case.

Nortel was undoubtedly happy to declare the consortium featuring Apple, Microsoft, RIM, and others as the winner — even though they had to know this result will come under much more scrutiny (and as such, take much more time to close) than if Google had won.

Sadly, this behavior seems to follow the recent M.O. of Google. They walk into situations with extreme confidence when they shouldn’t, then they seem surprised when things unravel. Where are those music deals promised over a year ago? How about the television content deals for Google TV? The list goes on. As I wrote over six months ago, Google appears to be living in a dream world — and they’re edging dangerously close to limbo.

You can’t overstate how important these patents would have been to Google. In the patent space, Google is a very weak player. This has allowed others like Microsoft and Oracle to go after them and/or their partners (for Android). While no one expected Google to go after other companies with these patents, they would have served as a huge deterrent. As in, don’t sue me for this, because I can sue you for that. Instead, their enemies have more nuclear weapons pointed at them now.

Well, presumably. Google’s next course of action is undoubtedly going to be to lobby the governments in both the U.S. and Canada to reject this deal. Or at the very least, they’ll want a lot of restrictions in place. In other words, Google is going to have to get serious. You know, like how they should have been acting during the auction itself.

[image: flickr/gregoconnell]