Microsoft: Why innovate when you can litigate?

Another Android (and ChromeOS) patent deal signed up.

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steve ballmer

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gestures during the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, California October 18, 2011.

REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

Early Sunday morning, Microsoft's legal team triumphed over its developers once again, announcing the tenth license agreement with an Android vendor of mobile phones and patents.

The tone of Microsoft's press release on its patent agreement with Compal Electronics, Inc. was dry and unremarkable compared to the legal team's blog about the same agreement, which seemed positively bellicose in comparison. The patent arangement, made for undisclosed terms and undisclosed patents, was notable in that it also implicated ChromeOS as an infringing technology.

ChromeOS, a Linux distribution based on Canonical's Ubuntu, has been a target of Microsoft's attorneys since this summer, when it entered a license agreement with original design manufacturer (ODM) Wistron in July. ChromeOS was also mentioned as a potential violator of Microsoft patents in a similar patent deal with another ODM, Quanta Computer, made earlier this month on Oct. 13.

This weekend's arrangement makes Compal the third ODM company to enter into a Microsoft agreement over ChromeOS and Android, and the tenth Android-related patent deal Microsoft has made in 18 months.

The tone from Microsoft's General Counsel team of Brad Smith and Horacio Gutierrez was full of vim and vinegar, as my grandmother used to say, in their victory-lap blog entry posted Sunday morning.

"Cocky" would be the term I would use, being far less genteel than my grandmother.

One example: the post, chock full of information on Microsoft's latest patent score, included a chart that also detailed Apple's and Oracle's separate lawsuits against Google's Android, which seems to all but confirm Google's assertions all of this Android litigation is all part of a coordinated effort.

The post from Microsoft Executive Vice President and General Counsel Smith and Deputy General Counsel Gutierrez made no mention of ChromeOS, curiously, but did brag (there being no other word for it) that Microsoft now has licensing agreements in place with 55 percent of the ODM market (by revenue) and "[f]ollowing our agreement earlier this month with Samsung, Microsoft now has license agreements in place with OEMs that account for 53 percent of all Android smartphones in the United States."

Of course, it's not only Android who gets to share in this ever-so-effective legal strategy. "… [A]s reported in this morning's Seattle Times, we've now entered into 1,133 agreements over the last decade to license our patents to other companies that share our desire to respect IP rights."

In the same paragraph, Microsoft claims it has spent $4.5 billion to license patents from other companies, but did not include a figure on how much revenue it has gained from those 1,133 patents.

It was interesting that Microsoft pointed out that Seattle Times article, as the tone of that piece was not particularly one of praise for Microsoft's legal actions.

I invite you to read the article in its entirety, as it gives an detailed look into Microsoft's plays on the patent field, as well as possible long-term strategies.

One thing is for sure, the braggado and preening is unlikely to win Microsoft fans, since essentially they are going to perceived as patent trolls doing little more than celebrating their agreements made with (as yet) unproven patents. The comment section of this weekend's Smith and Guteirrez blog post demonstrates that quite clearly.

Microsoft's legal team has moved past any sort of tipping point where they really give a damn about the opinions of such people. They have demonstrated, for now, that they have come up with a proven legal strategy that generates revenue in a way that offsets their current losses in the mobile field with Windows Phone 7.

One wonders if they will start caring if any of these patents they have licensed are proven to be invalid.

Until that day, Microsoft is getting while the getting's good with their new revenue stream.

How innovative.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Open for Discussion blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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