Microsoft has announced that they believe Google’s mobile operating system Android infringes on their intellectual property, CNet reports.
They also announced a deal with HTC, a leading maker of Android phones, where HTC will pay Microsoft royalties.
The war to dominate mobile internet recently heated up, going through courts when Apple sued HTC for patent infringement related to Android. The speculation was that Apple went after Android handset makers because 1- they are weaker than Google and 2- since Android is free and the iPhone is not, lawsuits or the threats of lawsuits would add a “price” to Android, thus hobbling the growth of the rival platform.
The Microsoft-HTC deal probably makes sense for HTC since they also make a lot of Windows Mobile phones and presumably don’t want to damage their relationship with Microsoft. Such an agreement — implicitly confirming that Android does infringe on Microsoft IP — would probably give Microsoft legal ammunition against other Android handset makers, or possibly Google itself. There’s also speculation that the deal might include legal ammunition against Apple for HTC, although that’s impossible to confirm right now given how few of the details of the deal are public.
Android is based on the open source operating system Linux and Microsoft has argued almost since Linux was created that it infringes on Microsoft intellectual property, and has often sought — some would say bullied for — royalties from companies whose businesses are based on Linux. It’s unclear however whether Microsoft’s Android claim is based on that more general Linux claim or if there is also Android-specific IP that Microsoft believes infringes on their own.
The more general issue is that of how software intellectual property is built: any large technology company will have huge patent portfolios, with content often (purposefully) unclear that will overlap with some other large technology company’s portfolio. The decision to go to court (or to threaten a lawsuit and try to extract licensing fees) often has little to do with whether another company is actually copying intellectual property, and more to do with its being a heavy weapon in the strategic arsenal to fire at a competitor.
This wave of lawsuits and potential lawsuits shows just how heated the war to control the mobile internet has become. In a platform game the winner will reap most of the gains and the very big players who are out to control this market are in it to win it.
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