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Microsoft inks licensing deals with two more Android makers

Microsoft announced Thursday that Acer and ViewSonic have each agreed to license undisclosed intellectual property from Microsoft to cover each vendor's Android phones and tablets, Microsoft says.

The deal with ViewSonic also covers Chrome tablets, Microsoft said, and involves royalties paid to Microsoft by ViewSonic. Details of the royalties were not disclosed.

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Including these two agreements, Microsoft has now announced Android-specific licensing deals with at least seven vendors: HTC, Velocity Micro, General Dynamics, Wistron, Onkyo and now Acer and ViewSonic. In addition, Microsoft previously announced patent license agreements with Samsung and LG that may cover Android as well. The Samsung licensing agreement was broad and at the time, 2007, covered Linux. Ditto for the agreement with LG, also announced in 2007. Microsoft said at that time the agreement would cover "Linux-based embedded devices."

Microsoft's biggest win in its campaign to impose licensing fees on as many Android device makers as possible was its agreement with HTC. HTC has become one of the most successful smartphone vendors on the strength of Android devices such as the Evo and Thunderbolt. According to one analyst, Microsoft receives $5 every time HTC sells an Android phone, leading some observers to conclude that Microsoft makes more money overall from Android than from its own Windows Phone 7 platform.

Microsoft has been cagey about publicly releasing information on exactly which patents these vendors are licensing. However, Microsoft is suing Motorola and Barnes & Noble in separate suits over alleged Android patent infringement. With the Motorola suit, filed in October 2010, Microsoft detailed nine patents it says are infringed upon by Motorola's Android devices. These include some related to Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync, which syncs email, calendar and contacts between a phone and PC, and technology that displays signal strength and battery power on phones.

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In its suit against Barnes & Noble over the Android-based Nook, Microsoft claimed the device infringes five patents, including technology that retrieves and displays images, handles editing in electronic documents and renders annotations.

The patent licensing game against Android, and its defense, is growing more complicated. HTC announced this week that it has acquired licenses to patents owned by Google and transferred to Google from Motorola. HTC is using these patent licenses to countersue Apple. Apple is suing HTC, Samsung and Motorola over Android.

Meanwhile, Microsoft and Apple are among a consortium of vendors currently seeking regulatory approval to buy a suite of patents from Nortel. The pursuit of license fees combined with the lawsuits from Microsoft and Apple has caused the Open Invention Network to actively fight the transfer of these patents to the consortium. The OIN wants the Department of Justice to limit the sale in the same way it did when a consortium of vendors that included Microsoft attempted to purchase Novell's patents. In April, the DOJ limited the sale of Novell's patents by making the patents subject to both the GPL and the OIN license. This essentially converted them into defensive patents only. Patents covered by the OIN cannot be used to collect royalties.

Although Microsoft formally announced both new Android patent deals, neither Acer nor ViewSonic directly publicly commented on these agreements. Neither included a statement in Microsoft's press release, nor did they release statements of their own.

Julie Bort is the editor of Network World's Cisco Subnet community. She also writes the Odds and Ends blog for Cisco Subnet, the Microsoft Update blog for Microsoft Subnet and the Source Seeker blog for the Open Source Subnet community sites. Follow Bort on Twitter @Julie188.

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.


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