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11/1/2011
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Microsoft Lays Out Its Mobile Patent Strategy

Attorney Horacio Gutierrez, who heads up the intellectual property group at Microsoft, explains where the company is going when it comes to IP.

The only thing that there seems to be more of in the mobile ecosystem than applications are patent lawsuits. Microsoft has struck licensing agreements with 10 manufactures of Android and Chrome devices and there are sure to be more. There are at least four unresolved suits and the company is likely in discussions with other manufactures that haven't yet turned into agreements or lawsuits. Is this a money grab by the software giant?

Last month Microsoft announced it had struck its 10th licensing deal involving Android. Microsoft Deputy General Council in charge of intellectual property Horacio Gutierrez and Executive VP and General Counsel Brad Smith issued a blog post on TechNet announcing the deal and boasting that the tech giant now has licenses that cover 53% of the Android devices sold.

In the comments to the blog post there is a firestorm of criticism. Microsoft is accused of being a patent troll and there are calls to have software patents invalidated--all of them.

What is Microsoft strategy here? Is it just about the money? Unlike firms that only hold patents without making a single thing that benefits the economy, Microsoft is an operating company and uses these patents in its own products, all of which were developed or purchased by the company.

Gutierrez outlines the purpose of the suits in an interview with SFGate. He addresses some of the most common criticisms and touches on some of the current lawsuits.

Software companies get their revenue from the products they develop. They have to be able to protect their intellectual property and patents fit the bill. Clearly though, there is reason to question Microsoft's motives. One of the issues discussed in the interview is the Barnes & Nobel suit. The question is centered on the statement "In the Barnes & Noble case, one of the patents in question covers a graphical feature that indicates when a Web page is loading and disappears when it's gone."

I am assuming this is a scroll bar or some sort of percentage indicator that displays while a page is loading in the browser and then disappears once it is done. Now, I know Microsoft has a lot of patents that are truly worthy of defending, but this is a bit much. Is there a browser on any platform that doesn't have this feature? For its part, B&N doesn't appear ready to settle on this feature at all, instead preferring to hash it out before a judge.

I wouldn't look for the suits to stop anytime soon. At least Microsoft is ready to make licensing deals--for a price of course. Apple's Steve Jobs wanted no part of licensing, instead preferring to give Android a premature death. The biography "Steve Jobs" quotes Jobs as saying "I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this."

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