Microsoft’s announced today that HTC has licensed their catalog of mobile patents for their Android phones. Terms of the costs or the exact patents were not disclosed, which isn’t surprising in the context of how these deals are done. My first reaction on the briefing was… Wow! This is important news. So what does it mean?
First, this doesn’t help HTC with their dispute with Apple. It does mean that HTC doesn’t need to fear infringing on Microsoft’s patents with their Android devices.
Second, this will put more pressure on the notion that Android is “free”. There’s a body of mobile patents out there and it looks like the folks who own them are going to enforce them (lawyers have told me that it’s important to enforce patent catalogs or the right to enforce later can be lost) and at cost. We’ve already seen Apple go after HTC and now HTC has settled with Microsoft. It is interesting that Apple and Microsoft have cross licensed patents and the cost of patent licenses is included in the cost of Windows Phone. The net is a changed dynamic in the cost of what implementing and OS really is and handset vendors willingness to settle patent claims or go through the hassle of the courts.
Given the stakes are so how in terms of mobile platform success or failure, it’s not surprising that IP issues will be factored in. By creating uncertainty in the market regarding patent issues, both Apple and Microsoft have now created some degree of uncertainty for potential Android licensees. Expect this situation to grow even more complex throughout the year. The real question is what steps Google will take to protect members of the open handset alliance from patent litigation.