Is the Microsoft-HTC patent deal more about Linux or Apple?

Is the Microsoft-HTC patent deal more about Linux or Apple?

Summary: 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. Yes, that HTC -- the same one Apple sued for patent infringement in the mobile space in early March.

SHARE:

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."

Topics: Enterprise Software, Apple, HTC, Legal, Linux, Microsoft, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

77 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Its about both

    It works out great for MS. They get to spread more patent FUD about Linux and at the same time pile on with the current "Apple is evil" feelings developing in some of the tech community. They show that they can just come to an agreement instead of pushing the panic button and hurling lawsuits.
    storm14k
    • What FUD?

      Seriously.

      Microsoft seems to be giving companies a fair
      chance to reach a mutual arrangement. So other
      companies need not fear legal action without
      the opportunity to negotiate first.

      A company like Amazon is not going to grant
      Microsoft a payday if they didn't see some
      pretty solid evidence. I'm quite sure they were
      not left uncertain about why they're making amends.

      FUD isn't the same thing as "I don't like
      what's going on here"
      ericesque
      • Protection

        Yes it is fair. No it is not FUD. The process will be as flawed as the
        patent process itself. Whereas this isn't exactly complimentary, It is
        currently what we have to work with, and the law of the land.

        Lets be careful here though. What will be FUD, is the characterization
        of Apple's actions as nefarious relative to this. Apple is protecting it's
        property, and they have every right. They gave HTC every opportunity
        to remove violations.

        What is happening here is very simple. Apple won't share, and
        Microsoft will. If this is a schoolyard, and we are children, then we
        complain bitterly about those who don't share. But this is not a
        schoolyard, and we are adults, and property owners ourselves. To
        endorse what Microsoft is doing but decry Apple is ridiculous, illogical,
        and childish. It is the persecution of "protection" and the applauding
        of the "protection racket", and how would that make any sense at all.
        norgate
        • You really don't know history, do you...

          [i]What is happening here is very simple. Apple won't share, and
          Microsoft will. If this is a schoolyard, and we are children, then we
          complain bitterly about those who don't share. But this is not a
          schoolyard, and we are adults, and property owners ourselves. To
          endorse what Microsoft is doing but decry Apple is ridiculous, illogical,
          and childish. It is the persecution of "protection" and the applauding
          of the "protection racket", and how would that make any sense at all.[/i]

          You really don't know history, do you?

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embrace,_extend_and_extinguish

          You may [b]think[/b] they're sharing in the beginning, but in the long run...
          ubiquitous one
          • I Get It

            Microsoft's monopoly status does make the rules different for them. We
            have to trust the law to yank the leash however. It's not our job.
            Microsoft is still allowed to form business partnerships and license
            broadly. This is "sharing".
            norgate
          • Your right, it's not our job...

            ...but we do have a right to question and be suspicious of their motives.

            They've made threats against Open Source for years, and now they want to be "pals"?

            Puh-leeease...
            ubiquitous one
      • The FUD people believe

        If they would tell what then I could (might) believe it but without that
        knowledge I still (might) call it FUD. Now, saying Amazon or whoever
        would not take the easy way out, paying money, is ignorance. After 40+
        years designing / developing systems I still have to see one what I
        haven't seen before - I say seen, not patented or copyrighted, a huge
        difference! I have seen companies, corporation and enterprises paying
        fees even they know that they shouldn't but because it's more profitable
        to work that way. Nothing wrong in that in free marketing world except it
        makes people to believe on wrong things. Often it's the "don't rock the
        boat" principle - you don't challenge our IP, we don't challenge yours -
        just sign here.
        tuomo1
      • The 'monopoly' is desktop Windows, not Microsoft

        @ norgate

        A common misconception, particularly amongst the open source advocates (I'm not suggesting you are one) is that Microsoft are somehow a 'monopoly'. That reflects a complete misunderstanding of competition law and competition policy. Competition law is based on products/markets, not firms.

        Windows has a clear dominant position in the market for PC operating systems, so anything Microsoft do that involves Windows PCs is subject to extra scrutiny by competition authorities. Windows Phone is not even remotely dominant in the mobile phone OS market, so the restrictions that apply to desktop Windows do not apply in any way to Windows Phone.

        The fact that Barnes & Noble are trying to turn this into a competition policy issue in the market for mobile phone OSes is laughable. In fact, Microsoft's share in mobile OSes is probably below the 5 per cent level that more or less guarantees competition authorities will assume they haven't got a dominant position. In the EU, it's not Microsoft who are being investigated for potentially anti-competitive behaviour in the mobile OS market, it's Apple and Google.

        Open source advocates also have a tendency to be fixated on events that, in the IT industry, are ancient history. What Microsoft did in the 90s, before they were found to have abused the dominant position of Windows (in both the US and EU), has little bearing on their behaviour today. First, the CEO's different and so are most of the management team. Second, they've had to pay enormous fines, modify their products and endure a decade of regulatory scrutiny and restrictions that have weakened their ability to compete. They'd be mad to do anything anticompetitive again.
        WilErz
    • If MS was spreading "patent FUD" nobody would be paying the licenses

      Since an increasing list of companies ARE paying MS a licensing fee, and those companies are advised by armies of lawyers, you can be sure that Microsoft's case is valid.

      If not, nobody would be paying for the licenses.
      de-void-21165590650301806002836337787023
      • Pulling an IBM?

        In the 80s, IBM got pretty much every company in the computer
        business cross-licensed. Why? One is simple: they had a patent
        department larger than most company's engineering departments, and
        a ton of patents to show. Another was exposure -- they had a huge
        target on their backs, and didn't ever want to have to fight a patent suit.

        But best of all, they were relatively fair. The license fees were for 1, 2, or
        3 and up. Use 3 IBM patents or 33,333, price is the same.

        If Microsoft has a similar deal, and similar worries about the whole big
        target thing, they may find others ready to make reasonable deals. If
        they have similar smartphone IP to Apple, its quite possible HTC has
        found MS covers what they do -- cheapest patent defense is another
        patent. Its always hard to be certain what a patent really covers, but
        older always beats younger if they saame to both read on the same
        design.

        So they may well be getting a way out from Apple and any Linux
        coverage as gravy. And if so, they get to make Apple look foolish, and
        they've shown the next guy being sued where to go look for help.
        Hazydave
      • Redhat and Canonical

        I will believe it when Redhat or Canonical pay M$. Canonical explicitly invited M$ to sue them. No response so far from MS. Seems that MS lawyers are not that eager to go into a real fight.
        kirovs
      • Because they're irrelevant

        @ kirovs@...

        Judging by the patents, the kernel used by Android is completely irrelevant to Microsoft's claims. Why should they sue Red Hat, much less an economy pygmy like Canonical? Neither of them sell Android-based products.


        Like WebM, this is essentially about Google violating the norms of patent cross-licensing that have long prevailed in the IT industry, but shifting the risk to their customers, rather than indemnifying them the way most firms do.
        WilErz
  • We demand transparency

    M$ is at it again!
    These goons are leveraging the monopoly against Linux and smaller competitors.
    The DoJ should start investigating this shody deal!
    Linux Geek
    • Buwahahahaha Demand anything you like, take what you get.

      And in your case, you get nothing, nada, zero. Deal with it.
      No_Ax_to_Grind
      • I represent people's interest

        to get free software!
        And also the people demand that they should not pay royalties to M$ for products not even made by the beast.
        As I said, the DoJ shold investigate M$ for raketeering and abusing its monopoly!
        Linux Geek
        • If you demand People's interest to free software...

          Said Free Software should not contain propietary IP from Microsoft (or Apple, or Oracle, or mine, or yours, or whatever...). While I don't know if that is the case, it is conceivable.
          Roque Mocan
          • Bring it on

            [i]Said Free Software should not contain propietary IP from Microsoft (or Apple, or Oracle, or mine, or yours, or whatever...). While I don't know if that is the case, it is conceivable.[/i]

            I invite M$ to try and find out. After years of threats against Open Source, where's the beef?
            ubiquitous one
        • I don't remember

          giving you the right to speak in my name.
          Marcvs Vinicivs
        • IP is for everyone

          I bet you're one of those M$ haters that always accuses Windows of copying Mac. Well guess what? Without Intelectual Property laws Macintosh wouldn't bother writing all their great stuff knowing that everyone and their dog could just copy it for free.
          Even Linux makes all its innovations because the community is competing against paid software. Think about it, all the greatest free software out there is trying to be just like their older paid brothers. IP drives the industry, even the free portions of it.
          DarkLordofIT
          • I agree. Except the part about Apple "writing great stuff".

            They may be good at hardware design, but they don't "write" great software.
            You need look no further than the worst security nightmares ever created....Quicktime and iTunes for Windows. They are both massive memory hogs, using more than Windows itself does after all services are up and running, just for one program and they are both massive security holes.
            They make IE look like the most secure software ever written.

            As for OS X, they didn't write most of that OS. It's by and large BSD with the MACH microkernel from CMU. Other portions have been handed off to open source teams to work on, then Apple patents that work, claims it as it's own and shuts out the open source team when they've done the will of Apple.

            Just look up OpenDarwin to see what Jobs did to that team.

            Apple is evil and a great user of other's work.

            Steve Jobs said it himself best: "We SHAMELESSLY steal great ideas".
            xuniL_z