Apple, Microsoft have smartphone design gentleman's agreement

Apple and Microsoft have a long-running patent deal that acknowledges there's no cloning of the iPhone. Indeed, Windows Phone's approach veers hard away from Apple's iOS and Google's Android.

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Microsoft has access to all the patents at the center of Apple's lawsuit with Samsung, but there are provisions in place so Windows Phones don't suddenly start looking like iPhones.

As noted in CNET's story on the Apple vs. Samsung patent trial, Microsoft has a long-running patent cross licensing act with the iPhone maker. Josh Lowensohn quoted Boris Teksler, Apple's director of patent licensing and strategy, at the trial on Monday.

Teksler said that Apple's long-running cross-licensing deal with Microsoft allowed the Windows maker access to all the patents in this case, including the design patents. With that said, there are specific rules in place with that deal to keep the two sides in check so that they don't make what Teksler referred to as a "clone" product. "There's a clear acknowledgment that there's no cloning," he said.

Now Apple's Teksler said that the company tried to forge a pact with Samsung, but certain design approaches and user interfaces were untouchable.

On the surface, the Apple-Microsoft deal reflects those untouchables. The tiles in Windows Phone are completely different than what the iPhone and Android have. Now that lack of cloning---or even resemblance---hasn't paid off with huge market share for Windows Phone devices, but Microsoft has come up with a different approach. Overall, the smartphone market is better for it.

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