Google, Microsoft Bury the Patents Hatchet

After five years of courtroom battles over intellectual property disputes, Google and Microsoft have agreed to dismiss the 20 or so outstanding lawsuits they were contesting with each other.

The tech giants put out a joint statement on Thursday noting that they would dismiss the patent lawsuits still ongoing between them in the US and Germany. The lawsuits are related to mobile devices, technology such as WiFi and video compression, and some were hanging over from when Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) owned Motorola's smartphone business. Terms of the agreement were not revealed. (See OS Watch: Google Alleges Microsoft-Nokia Pact.)

"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," the companies said in the statement. They are already working together, with Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and others, to develop a royalty-free, open video codec. (See New Alliance Aims at Royalty-Free Video Codec.)

For more on patent wars in the wireless industry, head over to the dedicated mobile content page on Light Reading.

Patent wars in the wireless industry have dominated headlines in years past with Google, Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) and Samsung Corp. often in the spotlight, suing their competitors in a bid to get licensing fees. Even wireless operators such as Verizon Wireless stepped in at times to protect their handset partners. (See Eurobites: Patent Litigants' Wings Clipped, Ericsson Takes Legal Action Against Apple, Rockstar Patent Holders Sue Google & Friends, Apple, Google Seek Patent Shields, Apple vs. Android Patent Spat Goes Global and Verizon Defends Samsung Against Apple.)

The ceasefire between Microsoft and Google is another indication that the industry is ready to resolve intellectual property issues with licensing fees rather than litigation. Aleksi Aaltonen, a professor of information systems at Warwick Business School, noted in an email to Light Reading that while patent battles are hardly unusual for tech giants -- for financial reasons, as well as PR and strategic maneuvering -- they may have lost their raison d'ętre in the mobile industry. (See Google Dumps Moto's LTE Patents in a Pool and Rockstar Group Unloads Patents for $900M.)

"Given that software patents are often notoriously ambiguous, lawsuits tend to become drawn out affairs that can last years," he says. "It can be very difficult to settle who infringed whose patents. However, in a fast-moving industry both sides may find that a lawsuit and the often retaliatory counter-lawsuit no longer serves a meaningful purpose and decide to stop wasting resources on the battle."

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading

danielcawrey 10/4/2015 | 5:04:56 PM
Re: future collaboration Software patents are difficult, especialy since the patent system was built with a mechanical economy in mind many many years ago. 

I wish I know the answer for patent reform. The problem is that technology changes so fast it is now really hard for the patent system to keep up. So what's the answer? Seems like patent lawsuits are a total waste of money. 
Sarah Thomas 10/1/2015 | 1:29:21 PM
future collaboration Back in 2011 - 2012, there was a handset patent story to write every single day. Seems productive that these are cooling off. I am curious to see how Google and Microsoft plan to collaborate and work together going forward though. Outside of the video codec group, what do you think that will look like?
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