October 20, 2014

Will Microsoft Hold Android Hostage?

Right now, we’re all worrying about Apple’s patent claims against HTC, but Android may face a similar attack from Microsoft.

It’s not terribly well known that Microsoft claims that it owns significant intellectual property used in Linux, the operating system at the heart of Android. Starting in 2006, Microsoft began reaching licensing deals with a number of companies that use the open source OS, among them Novell,  I-O Data, Samsung, LG Electronics and most recently, Amazon.

All these deals are similar, but as an example, Amazon has agreed to pay Microsoft licensing fees to use Linux on Amazon.com and on the Kindle. Read that again and let it sink in.

Many have voiced skepticism that Microsoft could successfully defend their claims, but so far, companies have rolled over and complied rather than take the question to court.

So, what about Android? Is it far-fetched to wonder if Microsoft might bring similar claims our way as they prepare to launch Windows Phone 7 Series? And if they do, will they be looking for cash, or will they prefer to cripple a competitor or try to shut it down entirely? Even if they just pursue a licensing deal, as they have before, it would mean an end to Android as a free operating system. And licensing fees paid to Microsoft would, of course, be passed on to consumers.

It will be instructive to see how the Apple vs. HTC case proceeds. I’m sure Microsoft would prefer bringing IP claims like this to the device manufacturers and carriers to taking them up with a big fish like Google, and if Apple is successful it may signal to Microsoft that this is a viable path.

What are your thoughts on this possibility? Is it something we should be worried about?

Source: Ryan Gallagher