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Apple Gets U.S. Antitrust Approval to Bid for Nortel Assets

Apple Inc. (AAPL) got approval from U.S. antitrust regulators to bid for the assets of bankrupt Nortel Networks Corp., according to an agency statement.

The Antitrust Division of the Justice Department reviewed Apple’s request to bid for a number of Nortel patents, according to a person familiar with the situation who declined to be identified because the process isn’t public.

While Cupertino, California-based Apple has won a green light to participate in the bidding, the Antitrust Division will continue to review any anticompetitive issues that could arise once an agreement is made, the person said.

Nortel, a Canadian phone-equipment maker that filed for bankruptcy in Wilmington, Delaware, in January 2009, agreed to sell the patents to Google Inc. (GOOG) for $900 million unless a competitor bids more at a June 27 auction. Nortel delayed the auction for a week citing a “significant level of interest” in a June 16 statement.

“Even though these big companies are under scrutiny by antitrust regulators, they are not routinely being slowed or blocked in their expansive ventures,” said Rebecca Arbogast, a Washington-based analyst with Stifel Nicolaus & Co. “The Nortel auction is a great treasure trove, and this will help companies gain patents for offensive expansion and as a defense against patent suits.”

No Names

Nortel, based in Mississauga, Ontario, hasn’t identified any of the bidders other than Google that have qualified to participate in the auction. The company doesn’t plan to make any information about the bidding public until after it picks a winner, Nortel attorney Lisa Schweitzer said in an interview this week.

The patent portfolio will give the winning bidder rights to control and license technologies including wireless video that may be valuable for future generations of smartphones such as Apple’s iPhone and Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM)’s BlackBerry.

Software giant Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), computer maker Hewlett- Packard Co. and phone maker Nokia Oyj (NOK1V), are among technology companies that have objected to the sale to Google, saying in court papers the deal doesn’t guarantee them continued access to technologies they currently have a right to use.

RPX Corp., a San Francisco-based patent-buying firm, is also considering a bid for the assets, Andrew Kent, an attorney for the company, said at a bankruptcy court hearing last month.

Bloomberg reported Apple’s interest in bidding for the patents on June 18, citing two people familiar with the matter.

Research In Motion, based in Waterloo, Ontario, and phone- equipment supplier Ericsson AB are also weighing bids, people familiar with those companies’ plans have said.

The bankruptcy case is Nortel Networks Inc., 09-10138, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Delaware (Wilmington).

To contact the reporter on this story: Sara Forden in Washington at sforden@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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