Google and Samsung, which have been close partners in combining Google's Android mobile operating system and Samsung's mobile device hardware in the last few years, have just signed a 10-year agreement to share patent licenses with each other for existing and future innovations.
The deal for the patent cross-licensing arrangement was announced Jan. 27 by Samsung on the company's blog, bringing the two partners into a deeper relationship in a marketplace filled with powerful rivals such as Apple.
"This agreement with Google is highly significant for the technology industry," Seungho Ahn, the head of Samsung's Intellectual Property Center, said in a statement. "Samsung and Google are showing the rest of the industry that there is more to gain from cooperating than engaging in unnecessary patent disputes."
Under the deal, Samsung and Google will gain access to each other' patent portfolios, which will allow deeper collaboration on research and development of current and future products and technologies, according to Samsung.
"We're pleased to enter into a cross-license with our partner Samsung," Allen Lo, deputy general counsel for patents at Google, said in a statement. "By working together on agreements like this, companies can reduce the potential for litigation and focus instead on innovation."
Dan Maycock, a mobile analyst with OneAccord Digital, told eWEEK that the licensing arrangement is particularly noteworthy in light of Samsung's ongoing interest in the open-source Tizen operating system for use on some of its devices. "I don't think it's a coincidence," he said of the patent deal move at this time. "I think what it does is cement the relationship between Google and their number one OEM for Android."
On the other hand, said Maycock, by signing the deal, it doesn't completely put the potential controversy to bed regarding the use of Tizen instead of Android in future devices. "That's not to say that things potentially couldn't be rocky for them in the future," he said.
What the 10-year deal could do, according to Maycock, is provide "a bit of a commitment" between the two existing partners. "I think it's like a little wedding, like when the king of England marries the queen of Spain just so they won't go to war with each other. It doesn't mean that they love each other. It just means they just won't go to war."
For both companies, that could take some of the pressure off in a marketplace where the two have regularly been the target of patent-infringement lawsuits from rivals, he said. "I think it does help," said Maycock. "If a certain percentage of your brain is consumed by such stress, then you are less productive. If Samsung had gone away from Android and said 'we're going to do our own thing,' then who knows what could have happened. This deal means they can work together and Google doesn't have to worry about Samsung going in a different direction with their mobile platform and becoming a competitor. This helps solidify things. It's the royal wedding."
The Tizen operating system options for Samsung have been circulating for a while, but they surfaced publicly at the February 2013 Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, Spain, where an increasing use of Tizen was potentially seen as a rift between the companies, according to an earlier eWEEK report.
Maribel Lopez, principal analyst for Lopez Research, told eWEEK in an email reply that not enough details are yet known about the newly signed Google-Samsung deal to know just what it will mean for both sides.
"If it were exclusive, it would be a big deal," she wrote. "It's also not exactly clear what it is. But it's still a good deal. Samsung is the recognized leader of Android devices. Google has every interest in having at least one other party [other than Google's own Motorola unit] developing strong products."
Lopez said she's not sure that the deal will inspire even more innovation between the two companies, but said that "this more likely makes some things easier. Personally, I think they were both pretty innovative already."
The deal might have the largest effects on competitors, she said. "This is a bigger deal to HTC and others that might now have limited access to certain things," Lopez wrote.