Google just quietly bought 1,029 IBM patents. Blog SEO by the Sea first reported the news. A Google spokesperson subsequently confirmed the purchase via an emailed statement.
The patents Google bought span a wide range of fields that may or may not directly involve smartphones. SEO by the Sea listed the purchases here. Google did not disclose how much it paid for them.
Google's primary business is the search engine, a space it dominates and is relatively safe in legally. However, it's entering into sectors where it does face significant legal threat.
Currently, the most legally contested sector which Google participates in (also arguably the most legally contested sector in the entire tech world) is smartphones and tablets.
Google is facing a direct multi-billion dollar lawsuit from Oracle, which is accusing Google of violating its Java programming language patents in the Android OS.
Google is also indirectly facing legal threats from Apple, which is embroiled in nasty lawsuits against Samsung and HTC, two of the biggest manufacturers of Android phones. While Apple's complaint centers on the hardware of Android devices, it also arguably makes claims that touch on the Android OS.
Google released a statement saying while it's not involved in the HTC lawsuit, it "stand[s] behind [its] Android operating system and the partners who have helped...to develop it."
Meanwhile, Microsoft is using its patents to demand money from Android makers. Previously, Apple also went after Motorola's Android devices.
Google, being a relatively young tech company, has a relatively small patent portfolio (read: small legal war chest). Recently, it has been using its massive cash hoard to shore up that portfolio.
Just weeks ago, it bid $3.14 billion for 6,000 Nortel Networks wireless patents but lost to a consortium that included Apple, Microsoft, and RIM (all Android competitors) that bid $4.5 billion.
"Like many tech companies, at times we'll acquire patents that are relevant to our business needs. Bad software patent litigation is a wasteful war that no one will win," a Google spokesperson said in an emailed statement regarding the IBM purchases.
Regarding its attempted purchase of Nortel Networks patents, Google's general counsel Kent Walker said it hoped the Nortel patents would "create a disincentive for others to sue Google."
"Google has long argued in favor of real patent reform, which we believe will benefit users and the U.S. economy as a whole... In the absence of meaningful reform, we believe [buying up patents is] the best long-term solution for Google, our users and our partners," said Walker.