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Peace at Last: Microsoft and Google End Android Patent War

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on October 01, 2015 12:40 PM

"The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them." Isaiah 11:6.

Are the end times upon us? Surely some revelation is at hand. Because only cosmic intervention can explain the announcement yesterday from eternal rivals Google and Microsoft: the two tech giants have come to "an agreement on patent issues" and will dismiss all pending patent litigation -- about 20 lawsuits in total.

Patent Peace Reigns

Microsoft and Google have been scrapping over alleged patent infringement for the past half decade. In 2010, Microsoft sued Motorola over its Android software, alleging that Android violated nine MS patents. The suit came just after Motorola stopped selling phones with Windows software. Motorola predictably countersued and Google inherited the litigation when it bought the phonemaker in 2011. The litigation multiplied, reaching about 20 total suits, according to Bloomberg, and encompassing Microsoft's Xbox as well as Android phones. Now, those lawsuits are no more.

The announcement is short on details. It reads in full:

Microsoft and Google are pleased to announce an agreement on patent issues. As part of the agreement, the companies will dismiss all pending patent infringement litigation between them, including cases related to Motorola Mobility. Separately, Google and Microsoft have agreed to collaborate on certain patent matters and anticipate working together in other areas in the future to benefit our customers.

While the details remain confidential, we assume they include paying licensing fees to Microsoft. On the eve of the first Microsoft-Motorola lawsuit, Microsoft's then-CEO Steve Ballmer explained that "it's not like Android's free. You do have to license patents." But perhaps only after years of litigation.

Where Phones Fail, Patent Licenses Can Win

If Microsoft phones are failing in the smart phone market -- and they are -- patent royalties may be MS's saving grace. Despite all the emotional sturm und drang iPhones can conjure up in Apple fanboys and the press, Android phones dominate the market. They hold 82.8 percent of the market, according to IDC, while Windows phones make up just a sad 2.6 percent. When the lawsuits began, Microsoft had 6.8 percent of the market; Google had just 16.3.

The rise of Android could be a silver lining for Microsoft, who claims that the phone operating system infringes many of its patents. Microsoft claims to collect patent royalties from 50 percent of Android makers, according to Arstechnica, and has described Motorola as one of the few holdouts.

Of course, not all smartphone patent litigation has been raptured away by the announcement. Microsoft continues to sue other phonemakers and Apple and Samsung's lawsuits are now in their fourth year.

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