Microsoft offers patent peace to Motorola, but at what cost?

August 1, 2012
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microsoft peace

Over the past couple of years, Microsoft has managed the unthinkable — they got virtually all Android manufacturers to pay them, Microsoft, for using Google’s free and open source software. But this is not a strange tactic coming from Microsoft, considering they’ve tried the same strategy with Linux vendors in the past, either directly or through proxies, like SCO.

Microsoft sued Motorola back in 2010 because they were refusing to adopt WP7 and pay whatever MS was asking for their alleged patent infringements. Microsoft did the same to Barnes & Noble later, but apparently they got scared of B&N winning the lawsuit or, at the very least, uncovering their “secret” patents. In case you didn’t know, Microsoft is claiming that many companies infringe on their IP, but generally refuses to reveal the patents in question. Eventually, Redmond settled with B&N and were forced to “invest” $605 million into the book company.

Microsoft recently won a battle with Motorola, in, where else, Germany. Motorola was slapped with an injunction against its Android devices,  for infringing on Microsoft’s FAT file system technology. I’d argue that the FAT filesystem should be an open standard by now, considering Microsoft’s Windows monopoly and the fact that, if you want to connect any sort of external drive to a Windows PC, you need to use the FAT file system.

But let’s say that Microsoft deserves that patent. That still leaves the issue that they’re charging a lot more for many other patents that they aren’t disclosing when they go after Android manufacturers.

So, when Microsoft comes out now and says “let’s make peace”, what they really mean is “let’s stop these patent lawsuits between us that may end up uncovering some of out secret patents or invalidate some of our most important patents, and you just pay us whatever we want”. That’s what Microsoft is really saying when they clamor patent peace, all while trying to look like the good guys.

Steve-o

To be clear, Motorola is in a vulnerable position right now, at least in Germany, and they need to appeal the infringement ruling. But Motorola almost got the Xbox 360 banned in the US, with ITC expected to make a decision soon .

This shows that, very soon, Microsoft could end up in a much more vulnerable position than Motorola is in right now. For MS, having to stop selling the Xbox 360 in the US would be much, much worse than Motorola’s German infringment. After all, the US is Microsoft’s main market for the Xbox 360, and it’s a much larger country than Germany. Microsoft feared a ban in Germany as well, but they ran away from the country and moved their headquarters elsewhere.

So Microsoft may act as if it hold the better position in the legal battle with Motorola, but they’re really just taking advantage of the latest ruling, which is hardly the end of the war and Google/Motorola knows this. Google just paid billions for Motorola’s patents, so I very much doubt they are going to quit the fight before making their last stand.

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