Microsoft's intellectual property (IP) agreement with HTC over patented technology in Google Android-powered smartphones will be the first of several, according to a Microsoft executive, who indicated that the company is in talks with other manufacturers "to address our concerns relative to the Android mobile platform." The move could indicate that Microsoft plans to port its philosophical position on open source into the smartphone operating-system realm.
Microsoft is negotiating intellectual property (IP) agreements with unnamed
manufacturers that produce smartphones running the Google Android operating
system, on the heels of the April 27 announcement that HTC
has agreed to pay royalties to Microsoft in exchange for the use of "patented
technology" in its Android-powered phones.
Since the launch of its IP licensing program in 2003, Microsoft has entered
more than 600 licensing agreements with companies ranging from Apple and
Hewlett-Packard to LG Electronics and Nikon. Those types of licensing deals
allow companies to both create partnerships and avoid patent-infringement
lawsuits, such as the ones leveled against both HTC
and Nokia by Apple in recent months.
While the agreement between Microsoft and HTC
gives the latter company additional leverage in that battle with Apple, it also
suggests that Microsoft is taking its traditionally aggressive stance with
regard to patents and open source into the mobile realm.
Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft's corporate vice president and deputy general
counsel of Intellectual Property and Licensing, wrote in an April 28 statement
e-mailed to eWEEK: "We have built a significant patent portfolio in this field,
and we have a responsibility to our customers, partners, and shareholders to
ensure that competitors do not free ride on our innovations."
What's more, Gutierrez added, "We have also consistently taken a proactive
approach to licensing to resolve IP infringement by other companies, and have
been talking with several device manufacturers to address our concerns relative
to the Android mobile platform."
One of those concerns could be open source such as Linux, a traditional bone
of contention for Microsoft. Android relies on Linux kernel v2.6 for core
system services "such as security, memory management, process management,
network stack, and driver model," according
to the Android Developers Website.
During an October 2007 meeting of Web 2.0 developers and partners in London,
Linux Watch quotes
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer saying, "I think it is important that the
open-source products also have an obligation to participate in the same way in
the intellectual property regime." Ballmer had suggested in previous speeches that
Linux violates a variety of patents.
Microsoft's current approach to Android-as heralded by the HTC
agreement-could indicate a willingness on Microsoft's part to pursue that
philosophical stance into the smartphone arena. HTC's
need for leverage in its coming battle against Apple could have made such a
deal by Microsoft appealing, although the exact financial terms of the
licensing have not yet been disclosed.
"Microsoft's policy is one of mutual respect for IP and we are
committed to licensing our IP on reasonable terms," a Microsoft spokesperson
wrote in an April 28 e-mail to eWEEK. "Phone manufacturers, in general, and HTC
in particular, are sophisticated businesses that have a track record of
licensing patents to secure the necessary IP rights for their products."
IP agreements with phone manufacturers could conceivably allow Microsoft to
keep a closer eye on developing platforms such as Android, which will be a
strong market competitor to the upcoming Windows Phone 7.
Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.