Google bought IBM patents. Microsoft bought AOL patents, then sold many of them to Facebook. Now, Nvidia is buying IPWireless patents as the industry continues playing patent musical chairs in an increasingly litigious environment.

Nvidia and Intellectual Ventures on Monday announced a partnership to acquire a set of patents IPWireless developed and owns. The portfolio spans about 500 patents granted and pending in the wireless communication realm. Patents cover essential concepts in LTE, LTE-Advanced and 3G and 4G technologies.

"This acquisition complements our ownership of extensive fundamental patents in graphics, visual and mobile computing," said David Shannon, executive vice president and general counsel at Nvidia. "These patents, acquired in collaboration with Intellectual Ventures, will help support our rapidly expanding efforts in the mobile business."

Nvidia's LTE Processor Play

Nvidia announced in February that it joined GCT Semiconductor and Renesas Mobile, two suppliers of cellular silicon solutions, to support and jointly develop LTE modems and Tegra 3 mobile processors.

At the time, Phil Carmack, head of Nvidia's mobile business, said OEM partners could now create next-gen LTE products with a fast time to market, and that Nvidia was equipped to help "push the envelope" on the overall mobile experience.

We asked Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, his thoughts on the patent grab. He agreed that many technology companies are taking a more proactive stance on the intellectual property front and that could be partially motivating Nvidia's buy. But Nvidia is likely also looking to bolster its capabilities on the mobile chip front amid a growing opportunity with smartphones and tablets.

"Nvidia has promised to deliver a Tegra chip that will be LTE compatible. The company's plan is to pursue more opportunities in the mobile and smartphone space, and these patents could play a role in that," King said. "Pursuing this type of IP purchase probably makes good sense for the firm as it aggressively pursues new markets."

The IP Partnership Model

Nvidia has been inching this way for a couple of years. The company first launched a next-generation Tegra processor aimed at tablets in January 2010. (That was when the market was calling the yet-to-be-announced iPad the Apple iSlate.) Two short years later, tablets are the mobile darling and companies are scrambling to make them work smarter, faster and more efficiently.

Financial terms of the patent acquisition were not disclosed. What we do know is that Nvidia and Intellectual Ventures split ownership of the patents. Nvidia is licensing the patents it didn't acquire and IPWireless retains perpetual, royalty-free access to all patents.

"The structure of the deal where Nvidia and Intellectual Ventures went in together on the purchase is interesting," King said. "Rather than have to go out of pocket alone, they formed a collaborative IP partnership that could offer a pretty interesting model for other players to pursue similar kinds of purchases."