Microsoft is announcing a new technology, InstaLoad, that allows batteries to be inserted into a device "without regard to positive and negative polarity," according to the company. In theory, that means no more squinting at a micro-sized diagram embedded in the battery cover, trying to figure out whether the leftmost battery goes negative-side-down or positive-side-up.
Technology partners on the initiative include Duracell, which will possibly incorporate InstaLoad into future products, as well as firms like Black Diamond Equipment, which is working with Microsoft to build the technology into its headlamps.
InstaLoad probably poses the most end-user benefit to those with a need to change batteries rapidly, such as digital-camera users, and those who-for whatever reason-find themselves needing to switch out batteries in low-light conditions. Although the technology involves replacing traditional battery contacts with those of patented design, it is compatible with off-the-shelf batteries.
Microsoft plans on offering commercial licenses for the technology, as part of its Microsoft Hardware Intellectual Property Licensing program.
Initiatives such as InstaLoad reinforce the sheer scope of major IT companies' research and intellectual-property licensing, often far beyond the core technologies that drive the bulk of their revenue. Since launching its IP licensing program in 2003, for example, Microsoft has entered into more than 600 licensing agreements with other companies, ranging from Apple and Hewlett-Packard to LG Electronics and Nikon. Microsoft was awarded 2,906 patents in 2009, according to IFI Patent Intelligence, in wildly diverse areas such as tablet technology.
Those agreements also have the potential to make odd bedfellows. On Feb. 22, Microsoft announced that it had entered an agreement with Amazon.com, with whom it competes in the cloud-computing space, for widespread access to each other's patent portfolios. Amazon apparently agreed to pay Microsoft for the mutual access to patents covering a wide range of technology, notably Amazon's Kindle e-reader.
By granting patent licenses to each other through cross-licensing agreements, companies can perform a delicate one-two operation of creating stronger partnerships while avoiding patent-infringement lawsuits that can burn revenue and goodwill. However, many companies have recently shown a proclivity toward using their intellectual property as a bludgeon with which to assert their market primacy; for example, Apple's and Nokia's tit-for-tat lawsuits over smartphone technology over the past nine months, or the rapidly escalating legal feud between Microsoft and Salesforce.com, ostensibly over cloud-technology patents.