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HTC, Microsoft wade deeper into patent thickets

The story reads like a joke or a misprint: Smartphone manufacturer HTC inked a patent agreement with Microsoft ... covering devices running Google's Android software? (In other news, I've just signed a patent licensing deal with IBM covering cranky, sarcastic blog posts!)

But it's right there in yesterday's press release:

Microsoft Corp. and HTC Corp. have signed a patent agreement that provides broad coverage under Microsoft's patent portfolio for HTC's mobile phones running the Android mobile platform. Under the terms of the agreement, Microsoft will receive royalties from HTC.

This arrangement does, however, make sense if you've been keeping up with recent software-patent developments. See, HTC is already being sued by Apple for allegedly infringing on some of Apple's smartphone patents; the Taiwan-based company can now point to its newly licensed Microsoft patents and tell Apple "sorry, somebody else beat you to these ideas."

What's in it for Microsoft? You might think that our friends in Redmond, Wash., are just in this deal for the money, or possibly the chance to help somebody else swat down Apple. Then again, what if Microsoft next wants to suggest that Android infringes on its own patents? That seems to be the case, too--which would fit into its history of suggesting that Linux, the open-source operating system on which Android is built, infringes on its patents.

Unless, of course, we're talking about entirely different sets of patent claims between Apple and Microsoft.

(Update, 2:25 p.m. A Microsoft publicist provided a link to a March blog post by company vice president and deputy general counsel Horacio Gutierrez that essentially says that Apple's suit is for everybody's own good: "The smartphone market is still in a nascent state; much innovation still lies ahead in this field. In all nascent technology markets, there is a period early where IP rights will be sorted out." Later on in the post, Gutierrez opines that "Open innovation is only possible through the licensing of third party IP rights," which makes me wonder what he thinks of the open, innovative and patent-free World Wide Web.)

Whether any of these infringement allegations are true is often, in a practical sense, irrelevant. Companies routinely settle this kind of dispute by signing "cross-licensing agreements" that let them stick to their original plans.

If that happens in this case, you, the customer, may see the resulting improvements in future smartphones:

* Nothing.

Well, you might pay a little more to cover the legal fees run up by everybody's intellectual-property lawyers. But that doesn't count as an "improvement" unless you're a patent attorney or you happen to sell goods or services to members of the patent bar.

Would somebody now like to explain how these legal games "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts," the Constitution's justification for giving Congress the power to grant temporary patent monopolies? If so, the comments are all yours.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  April 28, 2010; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Mobile , Policy and politics  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Research In Motion previews BlackBerry 6 software
Next: HP buys Palm for $1.2 billion


Sounds like everyone but Apple wins on this one. Without HTC Windows mobile would already be dead so Microsoft needs to protect their hardware partner is my opinion.

Posted by: trentgu | April 28, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

"First, let's kill all the lawyers."
-Henry VI, Part II

BTW, Rob, I think that "cranky, sarcastic blog posts" would be covered by copyright and trademark law, not patent law...

Posted by: 54Stratocaster | April 29, 2010 2:25 AM | Report abuse

@54Stratocaster: I don't know... if people can patent tax shelters, I'm sure there's some way to claim that cranky, sarcastic commentary is part of a novel and patent-worthy business model. I just hope I don't get sued as a result!

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | April 29, 2010 10:22 PM | Report abuse

Rob, your posting seems to be so uninformed, naive and downright wacko that it's hard to know where to start. You are known far and wide as one of the biggest Apple Inc. boosters in the media. Don't you realize that Apple relies on its patents and proprietary interfaces more than almost any other high tech company? The basic social contract of patents is that inventors disclose how their technology works so that others can copy it and develop further advancements, in return for a relatively short monopoly period (compared to copyright). The fact that one public institution contributed basic technology to make the World Wide Web possible without filing patents doesn't mean that patents are worthless or that there aren't patents that cover many features now in use on the Internet.

Richard A. Gollhofer
Registered U.S. Patent Attorney

Posted by: RickG5 | April 30, 2010 9:36 AM | Report abuse

@RickG5: Could you please compare notes with @imike1 and tell me whose pocket I'm supposed to be in, Apple or Microsoft's? Thanks... that'd be really great.

Also: I didn't say that "patents are worthless," nor do I think that. I do think that the USPTO grants way too many patents that should not have been issued in the first place, with results that fail to "promote the Progress." I believe I have plenty of company in that regard.

- R

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | April 30, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

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