Microsoft Rattles Android’s Cage With HTC Patent Deal

Microsoft on Tuesday announced that it has signed a patent agreement with HTC covering the phone maker’s Android-based devices, and it’s talking with other phone vendors as well about its “concerns” regarding Google’s mobile operating platform.

The deal with HTC provides broad coverage under Microsoft’s patent portfolio for HTC’s mobile phones running Android. Under the terms of the agreement, Microsoft will receive royalties from HTC, though the amounts involved were not disclosed.

Microsoft and HTC have a long history together, but Microsoft is also looking to other device vendors involved with Android, it said.

‘Concerns Relative to Android’

“Microsoft has a decades-long record of investment in software platforms,” said Horacio Gutierrez, corporate vice president and deputy general counsel of intellectual property and licensing at Microsoft, in a statement provided to LinuxInsider. “As a result, 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.

“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,” Gutierrez added.

When asked by LinuxInsider if it had been approached by Microsoft, rival phone maker Motorola declined to comment.

“I recommend you contact Microsoft,” said Motorola spokesperson Jennifer Weyrauch-Erickson.

Neither Samsung nor Sony-Ericsson responded by press time to LinuxInsider’s requests for comment.

For or Against Android?

As Microsoft’s own Windows mobile platforms compete with phones running Linux-based Android, as well as Apple’s mobile operating system, it’s not entirely clear what the software giant aims to achieve in pursuing patent claims against Android.

The most obvious possibility would be the weakening of Android, which has been steadily gaining ground. Microsoft has also been on a licensing tear regarding Linux rights, so the move could fit into that strategy as well.

Then, too, there’s the fact that Apple recently staked its own patent claim against HTC in the form of a lawsuit involving some 20 patents, suggesting the possibility that Microsoft could — conversely, it would seem — hope to bolster HTC and Android in the battle with the iPhone maker.

In all likelihood, however, it’s not as simple as any of those theories would suggest, Chris Hazelton, research director for mobile and wireless with the 451 Group, told LinuxInsider.

Paid Protection?

Even though HTC is now “heavy into Android,” at one time it was heavily reliant on Windows Mobile, and “it may be again,” Hazelton noted.

Not only that, but “even Android will leverage Microsoft’s ActiveSync” technology, he added.

“That licensing revenue is fairly significant for Microsoft.”

In the end, HTC is a valuable partner to Microsoft, so the Redmond giant doesn’t “want to see it get dragged down in lawsuits with Apple,” Hazelton explained.

Microsoft may also be signaling to other partners, such as Samsung, LG or even Dell, he added, “saying, ‘we understand you may be looking at or using Android, but we can offer protection, connectivity and services, and protect you from the likes of Apple,'” Hazelton suggested.

‘Blown Out of Proportion’

Clearly, there are segments of Microsoft that “want Android to be working with Exchange and ActiveSync,” Hazelton noted, “but then you have the mobile division, which may be not as friendly.”

Ultimately, though, “there are a lot of different patent holders in mobile,” Hazelton pointed out, and the rivalries sometimes “get blown a bit out of proportion.

“Everyone likes a fight,” he concluded, “but it’s not uncommon to see partners licensing.” It doesn’t necessarily mean daggers are being drawn.

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