Photo: Dylan Love
Google has been forced to backtrack on its patent war with Microsoft, done through complaints filed with the International Trade Commission.But it left itself one ace-in-the-hole to keep this particular fight with Microsoft alive.
To recap: Google wanted Microsoft to pay big fees — as much as $22.50 per unit sold — for video-compression patents acquired when Google bought Motorola Mobility. Microsoft, naturally, refused, so Google filed a complaint with the ITC, an entity with the power to ban Microsoft products from being sold in the U.S.
Last week, the FTC ruled that Google couldn’t do that, at least not for patents contributed to a technical standard. Standards allow devices made by different companies to work together.
Patents contributed to a standard have to be licensed at very low fees, like pennies per unit. It’s a practice called FRAND, or fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory terms. Companies contribute their tech to a standard under FRAND because a few pennies per unit on every product made by every company can really add up.
But Google wanted Microsoft to pay a lot. That’s because Microsoft was trying to “tax” Android by getting Android/Linux devices to pay Microsoft royalties on every device they make. Microsoft has reportedly been asking for $5–$15 per unit — hardly pennies — but that’s for patents not covered by FRAND.
When the FTC ruled that Google could not blow off FRAND to go after a competitor, this was good news for the computer industry. And it looked the jig was up for Google’s counterstrike.
But, thanks to this one patent, Google’s fight at the ITC may be crippled, but it isn’t over.
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