Microsoft today posted a startling promise which said it would not use its patents to block its competitors.Sort of.
The company said it will not seek injunctions against products when patents are contributed to standards.
This may seem like a startling about-face given that the software giant is currently duking it out in an International Trade Commission investigation with Barnes & Noble. The bookseller has refused to pay Microsoft royalties for the Nook Android tablet. Microsoft has been pretty successful in persuading a whole bunch of Android and Linux device makers to pay it royalties. By some reports Microsoft is making more money on these royalties than on licence fees for its own mobile platform, Windows Phone.
However, today’s vow will likely have no impact on its patent attack on Linux or Android. Microsoft’s language specifically calls out “essential patents” as they relate to industry standards.
Participants in standards bodies have long been ruled by a provision called “Reasonable and non-discriminatory terms” (RAND). It’s a licensing obligation that standards bodies require. If a technology company wants its intellectual property to be part of a standard, that company must licence that IP to anyone that wants it — and at a dirt cheap price (say a few pennies per use). The tech company can’t refuse a competitor.
It’s worthwhile for a tech company to agree to RAND. Not only could those pennies add up but if the company’s technology is accepted in the standard, that gives it an instant leg up on any competitor interested in building a standards-compatible product.
Microsoft’s statement is clearly a reaffirmation that the company will respect its RAND commitments.
So what is prompting this renewed vow? It could be that it doesn’t want Google to outshine it. Google is said to be readying its own promise of how it will use the intellectual property it gains from its proposed acquisition of Motorola Mobility Holdings, says Bloomberg. That promise would be to placate regulators who are scrutinizing the deal.
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