The program, called Microsoft Intellectual Property Ventures, is the latest initiative in an ongoing strategy to license Microsoft technologies to a broader range of companies. Until now, many of Microsoft's licensing partners have been other large technology suppliers.
The company revealed Microsoft IP Ventures on Wednesday at a meeting of venture capitalists in New York. Venture capitalists will play a role in hooking up Microsoft with the entrepreneurs it seeks.
Microsoft IP Ventures begins with a menu of 20 Microsoft-developed technologies that are available for licensing, ranging from facial-detection software to data-visualization tools and biometric ID cards. Microsoft highlighted three of the technologies available through the program: software for mobile video communications code-named Portrait, technology for building online communities called Wallop, and another called LaunchTile for single-handed navigation of mobile devices.
Microsoft IP Ventures' licensing terms will be reached on a case-by-case basis and not publicly available. "The unique thing about IP Ventures is that often the arrangement is for royalty payments or equity in the company," or a combination of the two, a Microsoft spokeswoman says.
Last month, Microsoft struck a deal with Inrix Inc., a startup, that serves as an early example of how Microsoft IP Ventures plans to work with small companies. Formed by two former Microsoft employees, Inrix is developing real-time traffic-information services. It's licensing Microsoft's SmartPhlow visualization software for mobile devices, JamBayes statistical-analysis engine, and ZoneZoom map-navigation software.
Microsoft IP Ventures is part of an intellectual-property management strategy at Microsoft that involves accumulating a larger patent portfolio, striking licensing and cross-licensing deals with other companies, and offering indemnification protection to customers.
Chairman Bill Gates last year estimated that Microsoft would file 3,000 software patents during fiscal 2005, a 50% increase over the previous year. The company has cross-licensing deals with Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, SAP, Siemens, Sun Microsystems, Unisys, and Xerox, among others. In addition, Microsoft continues to make more of its Windows and other technology available to schools, governments, business customers, and developers through its Shared Source Initiative.