Microsoft bought AOL's patents in a deal valued at $1.056 billion and may have just accelerated a Web map war with Google.
In a statement, AOL said it will sell more than 800 of its patents and patent applications to Microsoft. The deal includes shares of an undisclosed subsidiary so AOL can take a loss for tax purposes.
The deal is good for both parties and the patent auction was apparently competitive, according to Microsoft.
Why would these patents be so hot? There's a Web mapping war going on. Let's connect a few dots:
- Wikipedia, Foursquare and Apple pulled back from Google Maps for OpenStreetMap, an open competitor to Google on mapping technology.
- Mapquest is a backer of the OpenStreetMap initiative and has provided tilesets, APIs and other tools.
- 239 patents are attributed to Mapquest at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Rest assured some of those will be transferred to Microsoft in the AOL patent deal.
- The AOL sale highlights the power of intellectual property as technology companies duke it out.
- AOL just happened to buy Mapquest in 1999 for $1.1 billion and could claim a tax loss on that deal. AllThingsD noted that Netscape was the subsidiary Microsoft bought.
Add it up and its a mapping war that pits Google Maps against the OpenStreetMap/Mapquest/Microsoft trio. On March 1, Mapquest said on its developer blog:
Is 2012 the year of Open mapping? We've been ecstatic to see the energy around OpenStreetMap, and have noticed several applications recently convert to using MapQuest-OSM tiles and other companies like foursquare embrace OpenStreetMap as a foundation of their business.
Now it has Mapquest intellectual property in the fold, it will have the tools to either nudge out Google Maps or at the very least sue.