Microsoft and Samsung, the world's number two mobile manufacturer behind Apple, announced a major patent licensing deal on Wednesday. The agreement means that any time Samsung sells a Google Android-powered phone or tablet, they will pay a royalty to Microsoft. The joint press release also says that Samsung has also agreed "to cooperate in the development and marketing of Windows Phone," which involves paying Microsoft a licensing fee for their own mobile OS. On the surface, it may make it look like Samsung will have an easier time making Android phones going forward. But it really demonstrates just how much vulnerability the Android platform has in Silcon Valley's patent wars. And just how little protection Google has to offer its partners from infringement lawsuits.
Samsung and other mobile manufacturers are faced with a growing list of reasons to abandon Android. The new deal comes hot on the heels of Google's announcing their intentions to acquire Motorola Mobility. One is that Google moving into the hardware business with its acquisition of Motorola. But Android-phonemakers Samsung and HTC are also currently battling dozens of lawsuits--most of them filed by Apple--over software patents. Google has admitted that their Motorola bid was largely an effort to build out their patent portfolio in order to defend themselves and their partners against these kinds of suits. Though as Jordon Cook at TechCrunch points out:
If Samsung had faith that the Googorola deal would be beneficial to Android, there would be no need to sign on the dotted line until the acquisition was closed.… As far as Apple and Samsung are concerned, this won't do much to change the state of affairs. Samsung can't suddenly begin fighting Apple with Microsoft patents. The deal only allows Samsung to build products or practice technology covered in Microsoft's patents moving forward. However, it does make plain how Samsung perceives Android at the moment--in peril.
Meanwhile, Microsoft looks diplomatic in their attempts to spin the partnership as a goodwill gesture towards Google. In a blog post coinciding with the Samsung announcement, Microsoft's chief lawyers noted Google's complaining "about the potential impact of patents on Android and software innovation" and heralded patent licensing agreements as a way "to address intellectual property issues in a responsible manner." They asked, "If industry leaders such as Samsung and HTC can enter into these agreements, doesn't this provide a clear path forward?"