Mobile phone maker HTC has agreed to pay Microsoft an undisclosed sum to license Microsoft patented technology for use in phones running the Android operating system, Microsoft announced on April 27.
Which patents is HTC licensing specifically? The pair won't say. But Android is a Linux-based operating system, and Microsoft has been waging a campaign to get Linux distribution vendors and their OEMs to sign intellectual property (IP) licensing pacts over the past couple of years. Among the vendors selling/embedding Linux who've signed patent licensing deals with Microsoft are Amazon, Linspire, Novell, TurboLinux and Xandros.
Apple sued HTC in early March for alleged IP infringement in the mobile phone space. Apple is claiming HTC is infringing 20 Apple patents related to the iPhone’s user interface, underlying architecture and hardware.
When Apple sued HTC, I asked Microsoft for comment, thinking Microsoft execs might be willing to come to HTC's defense -- to some extent, at least -- given HTC sells Windows Mobile phones, as well as Android-based ones. But Microsoft officials wouldn't provide a statement of any kind.
A statement I received from a Microsoft spokesperson makes a not-so-thinly-veiled reference to the Apple case (at least the way I read it):
"As you may be aware, many technology companies active in the growing smartphone space have been taking increasing steps to protect their inventions. As the two companies have a long history of technical and commercial collaboration, Microsoft views this agreement as an effective example of how industry leaders can reach commercially reasonable arrangements that address intellectual property concerns."
Does the Microsoft-HTC patent agreement mean we can expect to see Microsoft weigh in on the Apple vs. HTC patent infringement matter? Or is the Microsoft-HTC deal just one more example (with more mobile-phone makers possibly to come) of Linux companies attempting to head off potential Microsoft lawsuits involving Linux?
Update: Microsoft officials sent me a link to this March 16 statement by Horacio Gutierrez, Corporate Vice President and Deputy General Counsel, that foreshadowed Microsoft's IP thinking in the mobile space. That statement clarifies Microsoft's plans around mobile IP. From the statement:
"In the next few years, as the IP situation settles in this space and licensing takes off, we will see the patent royalties applicable to the smartphone software stack settle at a level that reflects the increasing importance software has as a portion of the overall value of the device. In the interim, though, we should expect continued activity. Apple v. HTC was not the beginning of this process, and it isn’t the end of the story either."