Microsoft's busy week centered on mobile-not only its upcoming Windows Phone 7, but also legal action related to one of its biggest rivals: On Oct. 1, the company announced it had filed a patent-infringement lawsuit against Motorola over the latter'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."
The lawsuit suggests that Microsoft is becoming more aggressive about its patents with manufacturers of Android phones. In April, HTC acknowledged it would pay royalties to Microsoft in exchange for the use of "patented technology" in its Android-powered devices.
When news of the HTC agreement first went public, a Microsoft spokesperson wrote in an e-mail to eWEEK, "Microsoft's policy is one of mutual respect for IP and we are committed to licensing our IP on reasonable terms." Phone manufacturers such as HTC, the spokesperson added, "are sophisticated businesses that have a track record of licensing patents to secure the necessary IP rights for their products."
For Microsoft, such intellectual-property battles offer two potential benefits. First and foremost, it earns royalties from a rapidly expanding Android market. Second, it could theoretically slow manufacturers' rate of producing Android-powered devices, an important strategy when you consider that Microsoft's own Windows Phone 7 is due to hit the market in October.
And Microsoft is gearing up to push those Windows Phone 7 devices in a major way. On Oct. 1, the company announced that Andy Lees will remain in the top spot of the company's Mobile Communications Business and Don Mattrick will remain head of its Interactive Entertainment Business-formalizing the men's roles originally established back in May. Microsoft's mobile and interactive-entertainment businesses were previously grouped under the umbrella of the Entertainment & Devices Division; the assumption is that, by separating them into two autonomous subdivisions, the two product lines can receive more focused energy and attention.
Given how Windows Phone 7 and Xbox Kinect are central to the company's overall consumer strategy, that move seems logical. (Microsoft also announced Kurt DelBene as president of the Microsoft Office Division.) Microsoft is betting that the smartphone's unique user interface-it aggregates Web content and apps into a series of subject-specific "Hubs," such as "Office" and "Games," instead of the iPhone's or Android's gridlike pages of individual apps-will allow it to regain market share traction against those competitors.