Patents Wars: Is Microsoft Weaponized Or Will There Be A Forced Détente?
Microsoft strengthened its patent portfolio by licensing Nokia’s 30,000 utility patents and directly acquiring 8,500 design patents. With these patents come all of Nokia’s previous licensing and patent agreements with a variety of companies in the mobile industry including Qualcomm, Apple, Motorola, IBM, LG and others. The patents cannot be ignored and give Microsoft a distinct strategic lift when battling both Apple and Google (and, to a certain extent, Samsung) in patent courts across the globe.
Microsoft seems to have taken the opposite route in acquiring the use of Nokia’s patent portfolio than Google did when it bought Motorola in 2011. Google’s acquisition was seen at the time as mostly a patent play, subsuming some 17,000 patents (with 7,000 pending at the time) to defend its Android mobile operating system against lawsuits from the likes of Apple, Microsoft and Oracle.
Lumia original lineup from Nokia World 2011
Do these patents mean that Microsoft will be on the offensive in trying to limit Apple and Android devices from reaching the market? Probably not, in either the short nor long term. Nokia has successfully navigated the patent landscape without many major court cases (with the exception being with Taiwanese manufacturer HTC) by coming to agreements with the major players in mobile with a variety of licensing deals. Microsoft and Apple also have a mutual agreement to not attack each other on the patent front. So, Microsoft and its cadre of patents could create a détente between Apple, Google and its manufacturing partners and other mobile players. Each have the capability to sue the other over very specific issues meaning that patent lawsuits could become zero-sum battles.
“It is about wanting to avoid the potential litigation around monopoly that Microsoft could face (Nokia patents are licensed by many other vendors) and also avoiding the legal hassle of enforcement, since now essentially a holding company (Nokia that’s left over after acquisition) will deal with that,” said mobile analyst Jack Gold of J.Gold & Associates in a note. “Much cleaner just to license the patents without the baggage.”