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Microsoft's Two Minds on Patents

Microsoft is a strong advocate for relaxed rules that allow overturning patents. Unless, of course, they are Microsoft patents; in that case the company says it is committed to legal action that will "ensure respect for our intellectual property rights". You might generousl
Microsoft is a strong advocate for relaxed rules that allow overturning patents. Unless, of course, they are Microsoft patents; in that case the company says it is committed to legal action that will "ensure respect for our intellectual property rights". You might generously say they make these decisions on a (legal) case-by-case basis.Let me state my biases up front: I am not a fan of the current patent system, particularly with respect to software or business-process patents. When a company like i4i claims that Microsoft has infringed a patent that most of the industry agrees is bogus, it seems like a pretty brazen money grab. The main point of contention is that the Patent Office granted the patent without realizing there was prior art already in use that incorporated the same ideas. Once a patent is granted, it is very hard to overturn even in the face of such facts. That is why Microsoft (and most of the industry for that matter) wants to be sure these kind of patents can be overturned.

But then, according to Microsoft, there is a completely different kind of patent: the ones they own, which are totally legit and righteous. These are the ones they want Motorola to license. Motorola currently doesn't seem to have any plans to make Windows 7 phones, and who can blame them since they are doing such great business with their Android-based Droid line. You can almost hear Microsoft saying, "That's a great phone business youse got goin' there, it'd be a shame for anything to happen to it." It's unlikely Microsoft and Motorola will come to blows on this. Instead, there will be some sort of cross-licensing deal, or perhaps a low-low price on licensing the patents in return for an agreement to build some Windows 7 Phone models.

You can't really blame Microsoft for playing the patent game this way. Microsoft isn't a powerhouse in the mobile market; they need every advantage they can get to boost Windows 7 Mobile market share given its incredibly late start. They're being helped along by Oracle, which is suing Google and adding further murkiness to the Android picture. The losers in this tussle are likely to be consumers and businesses, who may end up paying more for products or have their choices artificially limited.