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HTC settles with Microsoft in Android patent deal

Apr 28, 2010 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — views

Microsoft and HTC have signed a patent agreement protecting the handset maker from Microsoft patent lawsuits over its industry-leading Android smartphones. HTC will have to pay royalties to Microsoft, which for the first time is enforcing its alleged Linux-related patents on an Android-based product, but the agreement could help it defend against a lawsuit from Apple.

The patent agreement covers "HTC's mobile phones running the Android mobile platform," and "expands HTC's long-standing business relationship with Microsoft," states Microsoft. Indeed, the companies have long been close partners, but over the last two years, HTC has steadily moved away from Microsoft's Windows Mobile operating system and towards the Linux-based Android.

Most recently, HTC announced two of the most advanced Android phones on the market: the Sprint-destined Evo 4G (pictured above right) and the Droid Incredible (left), which will appear tomorrow on Verizon Wireless. 

Since Microsoft launched its IP licensing program in December 2003, the company has entered into more than 600 licensing agreements, says the company. Over the last few years, embedded Linux vendors have been the subject of most of the announced settlements, including, in February, Amazon, for its Linux-based Kindle. Now, for the first time, the Linux-based Android has fallen under Redmond's legal attack.

As with most other such agreements with Microsoft, it was not clear what Microsoft patents HTC might have infringed upon. Only with Dutch personal navigation device vendor TomTom, which initially refused to settle last year, forcing a lawsuit, was Microsoft forced to show its hand. Its patent claims, it said then, covered the Linux implementation of the FAT file system, for which Redmond claims to own the patent. In the end, however, TomTom, too, was forced to settle.

A silver lining for HTC?

Considering that HTC is currently the target of an Apple lawsuit regarding Apple intellectual property (IP) allegedly being used in HTC's Android phones, HTC may well have decided that one legal fight was enough. Apple is claiming that HTC violated some 20 patents related to the iPhone's interface, architecture, and hardware.

In fact, the Microsoft settlement may help HTC's defense against Apple, writes Roger Cheng in The Wall Street Journal. According to Cheng, the Microsoft settlement should provide HTC with "legal ammunition in its fight against Apple Inc." 

Apple targeted HTC, not because it is the leading Android phone vendor and the maker of the Google-branded Nexus One (right), but because it has the weakest patent portfolio of all the Android phone makers, writes Cheng. By helping HTC strengthen its patent portfolio, the deal "makes Microsoft an unlikely ally of Google," he adds.

On the other hand, the arrangement continues Microsoft's FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) invasion, for the first time pushing into the Android world. There is no reason to believe that HTC will be the last Android vendor to enjoy the decidedly mixed blessings of a Microsoft "commercial arrangement."

Stated Horacio Gutierrez, corporate VP and deputy general counsel of Intellectual Property and Licensing at Microsoft. "HTC and Microsoft have a long history of technical and commercial collaboration, and today's agreement is an example of how industry leaders can reach commercial arrangements that address intellectual property."


The Microsoft announcement of the patent agreement with HTC may be found here. The story in The Wall Street Journal should be here.

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