Microsoft's HTC Android Agreement May Be First of Many

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.