More mobile patent madness: Microsoft licenses 74 smartphone-related patents from Acacia

Summary:Sometimes it's cheaper to head off a potential problem than fight -- a stance the old Microsoft regime would repudiate, but one that the current one increasingly has been pursuing. On October 7, Microsoft did just that, by licensing 74 mobile-related patents from Acacia.

Sometimes it's cheaper to head off a potential problem than fight -- a stance the old Microsoft regime would repudiate, but one that the current one increasingly has been pursuing.

On October 7, Microsoft licensed 74 patents for an undisclosed amount with Acacia Research Corp. and Access Co. Ltd, the Japanese company that acquired PalmSource, the maker of the Palm operating system, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

Acacia noted the Microsoft deal in a press release, which said Microsoft had licensed "a portfolio of patents related to smartphones owned by Acacia subsidiary SmartPhone Technologies LLC and Access Co. Ltd.," which included "inventions created by Access Co., Ltd., Palm, Palmsource, Bell Communications Research and Geoworks.

Acacia, which has been described as "the mother of all patent trolls," makes its money by buying companies with patents and then threatning/suing companies it claims to be infringing on those patents. According to a BusinessWeek story from earlier this year, Acacia has filed at least 337 patent-related lawsuits during its 18-year history. Look at the list of companies that have ended up licensing patents from Acacia this year alone. On the long list: IBM, Philips, U.S. Cellular, Seagate, Zoho, Toshiba and lots, lots more.

This isn't the first time this year that Microsoft has licensed IP from Acacia. In May, Microsoft licensed patents from Acacia for "enhancing image resolution." In January, as part of a settlement agreement, Microsoft licensed technology from Acacia for "aggregating and expressing geographically linked data."

The Journal said some of the patents which Microsoft licensed this week are the subject of a lawsuit Acacia filed against Apple, RIM, Samsung Electronics, Motorola and other smartphone makers. (Microsoft was not named in that suit.) The patents in question covered capabilities like e-mail synchronization, among other technologies.

Microsoft -- like nearly every player in the smartphone market -- has been at the center of patent litigation and settlements this year. HTC agreed to license patents from Microsoft to head off potential patent-infringement trouble involving Android.. And last week, Microsoft sued Motorola for alleged patent infringement on a handful of Microsoft's mobile OS and ActiveSync technologies.

Topics: Microsoft, Legal, Mobility, Smartphones

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Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network. Got a tip? Se... Full Bio

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