Microsoft has licensed 74 patents from Acacia Research Corp. and Access Co. Ltd, giving it legal access to technology once used in Palm's smartphones. The move could also fortify some of Microsoft's legal flanks against the increasingly endemic IP lawsuits flying around the tech industry.
The Wall Street Journal quoted Acacia CEO Paul Ryan as saying that the acquired patents constituted "foundational" bits of smartphone technology. Access Co. purchased Palmsource in September 2005, making the Palm OS developer-responsible for the software powering the Palm Treo and related handsets-a wholly owned subsidiary. Palm originally spun off Palmsource in 2003
"By focusing on efficiently licensing patented innovations from other companies, we're free to develop great software and we're able to provide our partners and customers intellectual property piece of mind," David Kaefer, Microsoft's general manager of intellectual property and licensing, wrote in a statement widely circulated Oct. 8.
Over the past few months, some of the biggest names in tech have engaged in a courtroom demolition derby over patent infringement. Many of these battles deal with smartphones, with millions of dollars in potential profits at stake. In April, HTC acknowledged that it would pay royalties to Microsoft in exchange for use of "patented technology" in its Android-powered smartphones; in October, Motorola may have been unwilling to make a similar deal, and Microsoft promptly filed an intellectual-property lawsuit against them.
Microsoft's Motorola lawsuit alleges infringement on nine patents in the manufacturer's Google Android smartphones.
"The patents at issue relate to a range of functionality embodied in Motorola's Android smartphone devices that are essential to the smartphone user experience," Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft's corporate vice president and deputy general counsel of Intellectual Property and Licensing, wrote in an Oct. 1 statement, "including synchronizing email, calendars and contacts, scheduling meetings, and notifying applications of changes in signal strength and battery power."
Since the launch of its IP licensing program in 2003, Microsoft has entered into more than 600 licensing agreements with companies ranging from Apple to Hewlett-Packard. Those types of licensing deals allow companies to not only create partnerships, but also avoid costly patent-infringement suits.
Apple and Oracle have also launched recent courtroom attacks against Android, which has been steadily gaining smartphone market share over the past few quarters. "It's disappointing that after years of supporting open source, Oracle turned around to attack-not just Android-but the entire open-source Java community with vague software patent claims," Google wrote in a public statement. "Open platforms like Android are essential to innovation, and we will continue to support the open-source community to make the mobile experience better for consumers and developers alike."
Apple has also sued Nokia and HTC for patent infringement, alleging that both those manufacturers' devices violate intellectual property associated with the iPhone. Not to be outdone, Nokia has turned and fired off its own patent lawsuits against Apple.
Given how some of Microsoft's newly licensed patents are apparently at issue in an Acacia-filed lawsuit against Apple, Samsung, Motorola and other smartphone makers, Redmond could soon find its lawyers dispatched on yet another IP-related mission. In theory, the patents might also protect Microsoft from any future lawsuits from Hewlett-Packard, which acquired Palm, and is reportedly planning a series of tablets and smartphones that use the Palm webOS operating system.