Microsoft will be happy to hear that Google is to keep Android free

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer: ’Android has a patent fee. It’s not like Android’s free. You do have to license patents.’

During a tour of South Korea, Google's Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said the company is committed to offering the Android operating system for free to handset partners. Microsoft will sure appreciate that.

While Google makes nothing from Android directly, it makes a lot of money, about $2.5 billion a year, from pushing ads to Android-enabled devices. And that $2.5 billion is expected to double over the next 12 months, so it's in Google's interest to keep Android free for handset partners.

But Google isn't the only company making money from Android. Microsoft is making money from Android too. The Redmond giant has entered into numerous patent licensing agreements with Android handset makers and is rumored to be pulling in some $3 to $6 per Android device sold. Last year Android was worth $444 million to Microsoft, and this number is set to grow as more patent deals are signed and more Android devices are sold. It's not big money, but it's still a significant cash cow for Microsoft that needs little in the way of care and feeding. Someone else needs to do the selling, Microsoft jsut sits back and waits for the royalty checks to roll in.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer takes a different view of Google on the subject of Android being free:

’Android has a patent fee. It’s not like Android’s free. You do have to license patents.’

And Microsoft has every intention of collecting on these patents. Next in its sights is Chinese telecoms giant Huawei.

So, it's not just going to be handset makers that are happy to hear that Google is committed to keeping Android free, Microsoft is also pleased to hear that.