Friday, July 1, 2011 at 10:08 pm.

Google bids $π billion for patents (and loses)

Six companies (including Apple, Microsoft, RIM, and Sony) won an auction for Nortel’s 6,000 wireless patents this week for $4.5 billion.

Meanwhile, Google was playing math games, and lost. Reuters’ Nadia Damouni reports:

“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.

“Either they were supremely confident or they were bored.”

Even for Google, this seems weirder than usual.

This isn’t like the 2008 wireless spectrum auctions, when Google “won” by losing — forcing Verizon to outbid it for a big chunk of spectrum licenses, which kicked in a bunch of “open access” provisions that Google had pushed for.

Wireless patents are important leverage these days, especially as Google’s Android partners get sued over patents by Microsoft, Apple, and others. It would be helpful for Google to have something to counter with.

So this strikes me as a mixture of Google’s goofiness and arrogance gone too far.

As “In The Plex” author Steven Levy says on Twitter, “It’s funnier if you win.”