The recent revelation that Microsoft makes a packet from Android might come as a surprise. But Android isn’t the only competitor Microsoft makes money from – and more often than not, the competition is happy with the deal.
Neither Apple nor Microsoft likes Android, and they both feel it infringes a number of their patents, but they’re taking very different approaches to Android handset manufacturers.
Apple is dragging HTC, Motorola and Samsung to court. At the same time, Microsoft has signed a licence deal with HTC and several other handset makers, is pursuing one with Samsung and spent over a year negotiating with Barnes and Noble, Foxcon and Inventec before turning to lawsuits and complaints to the ITC.
For a company popularly seen as litigious, the legal action over the Nook ereader is only the seventh patent infringement suit Microsoft has ever brought – and some of those have ended in cross-licencing patent deals, like the deal with TomTom.
Linux and more
Indeed, Microsoft has licenced patents to over 700 partners, including Sony, Panasonic, Samsung (for a digital photo frame using technology from Windows Live Photo Gallery), Inrix, Volkswagen – and Linux (in the shape of Novell), as well as startups you probably haven’t heard of (Zumobi, Zignals, Eon Realities and Wallop).
Microsoft has even licensed technology to Apple and Google; the Exchange Active Sync protocol for getting email, contacts, appointments and tasks onto mobile phones (the iPhone and Google Sync use EAS).
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The original Linux agreement was a big change for a company that used to think about patents as a way to crush the competition or force partners not to sue each other (or Microsoft), but it all goes back to Microsoft’s decision to start cross-licencing patents back in 2003, a year after general counsel Brad Smith was appointed with the slogan “it’s time to make peace” (which included the 2002 antitrust settlement).
Licensing Microsoft patents to OEMs like Toshiba, Samsung, NEC and Siemens in exchange for getting licences for their patents replaced the “non-assertion of patents” clause that Microsoft had added to OEM contracts after losing the Stac disk compression lawsuit.
Why Lost? Because Stac had bought a patent (from Ferranti). That’s according to Burning the Ships, an inside history of the change in Microsoft’s approach to licencing IP. It’s written by Marshall Phelps, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for IP strategy at the time that’s an excellent guide to internal Microsoft thinking and decision making.