back to article Microsoft: We've got HUNDREDS of patents on Android tech

Microsoft has been hush-hush about specifics of the patent licensing deals it has been signing with Android device makers, but a new blog post suggests Redmond might be wielding a larger intellectual-property club against the open source smartphone OS than had previously been thought. Buried in Tuesday's announcement that China' …

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Little wonder that Microsoft isn't especially concerned about the market share of Windows Phone. Android makes them more money. Windows Phone is probably just smoke and mirrors to cover up it's Android revenue generating patents.

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At least they are actively using the patents and making some effort to shot themselves in the foot (As it may make some money this way but to me it looks like the money is in the app stores).

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Facepalm

Good luck persuading a board to direct billions and purchase huge chunks of foreign phone companies just to provide "smoke and mirrors". And as if they care much whether you think they're making money from Android patents anyway! Yes, yes - Microsoft developed an entire phone line and integrated API and spent a massive fortune buying part of Nokia because they're shy of people knowing they make money. Of course they did.

And I can't believe the people who upvoted you just out of reflex to anything that says MS are duplicitous. A little logic and perspective on the numbers involved, people.

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I'm pretty sure MS will make more than $8 a pop from every Nokia phone sold

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> Windows Phone is probably just smoke and mirrors to cover up it's Android revenue generating patents.

That is true. If Microsoft didn't make Windoze Phone, they'd be classed as a patent troll. In fact, some people think that's the case despite its failed phone efforts.

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> And as if they care much whether you think they're making money from Android patents anyway! Yes, yes - Microsoft developed an entire phone line and integrated API and spent a massive fortune buying part of Nokia because they're shy of people knowing they make money. Of course they did.

MS are using Android royalties to prop up the loss making division that produces XBox and Windows Phone. If they weren't shy about it, they'd list it in their financials, not bury it away in order to hide losses elsewhere.

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Linux

"At least they are actively using the patents"

But are they? That figure smells too much like the mythical Linux 235 patents they previously alleged they held. As they're inventing numbers, how can this latest statement be trusted?

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Coat

"And I can't believe the people who upvoted you just out of reflex to anything that says MS are duplicitous"

You've been around these boards long enough, surely you should be used to that behaviour by now?

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Anonymous Coward

Microsoft do at least license their patents - and do so apparently on FRAND terms (less than $10 per handset for the whole lot apparently).

Unlike say Apple that just sue the pants off everyone and then refuse to license the tech. in question.

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I'm pretty sure MS will make more than $8 a pop from every Nokia phone sold

True enough, but $8 per phone sold from the dominant platform is probably still more total than what they're likely to get from Nokia phones. Nokia's barely a blip on the mobile radar these days.

But are they? That figure smells too much like the mythical Linux 235 patents they previously alleged they held.

They're probably the same patents, given that Android runs a Linux kernel. I've no doubt said patents exist. I could probably even name a couple of them. For example MS holds a patent on deleting files. Just try to enforce that one in court. I'm guessing the rest of them are about the same level of enforceability.

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Anonymous Coward

Why permit the secrecy

Patent-records are public. Even if most consumers don't care, we should still be able to obtain a list of which patents there has been paid royalties for with every gadget we buy.

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Re: Why permit the secrecy

The patents are public but the licence deals are commercial secrets. If you know what your competition is paying as a licence fee then you're going to fight to be no worse off when negotiating to licence the same patent. I assume there's a gagging clause in the agreements so we never find out which patents are being asserted, it will take someone with a bit of money to go on a fishing exercise to do enough to encourage MS to talk patents, then reveal which ones rather than sign a gagging clause.

More to the point, how many of those patents really are novel and innovative and how many are the bleeding obvious written in obscure language?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Why permit the secrecy

"More to the point, how many of those patents really are novel and innovative and how many are the bleeding obvious written in obscure language?"

Well, applying for patents is essentially an exercise in technical creative writing to state what is obvious (at the very least to the inventor) in a way that is seen as confusing and complex so that (a) the patent gets granted and (b) the usefulness of public disclosure is limited to a small amount of people and (c) it covers as much eventuality as possible.

Do patents really encourage innovation in that case, the idea that forcing public disclosure in exchange for exclusivity so everybody else benefits in the long term? I think not, but then again, I'm not doing R&D because of the prospects of riches. Plus I personally think there are enough people in the world that realistically, unless the field is very niche, advanced and expensive to get into, out of that sheer volume of people, an idea and the means to implement it, is generally speaking not particularly exclusive or "hard" to solve. Basically, software patents should be abolished period.

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Re: Why permit the secrecy

Not necessarily the commercial deals behind each patent licence, but certainly the details.

If, for example 85% of smartphones on the market infringe 200 Microsoft patents & require a licence is it not arguable that these licences should be frand?

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Re: Why permit the secrecy

"... is it not arguable that these licences should be frand?"

If it isn't, it's certainly arguable that the end user should be able to know what patents they are using.

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Re: Why permit the secrecy

"If, for example 85% of smartphones on the market infringe 200 Microsoft patents & require a licence is it not arguable that these licences should be frand?"

They're not taking anyone to court (like Apple), they're licensing. They're not refusing to license to anyone. If $8 per handset is anything like accurate that's quite reasonable. Sounds like it's fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory already.

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Re: Why permit the secrecy

They're not taking anyone to court (like Apple), they're licensing. They're not refusing to license to anyone. If $8 per handset is anything like accurate that's quite reasonable. Sounds like it's fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory already.

A reasonable point completely lacking any "MS are evil servants of the devil" agenda. I cant see a balanced argument like that catching on here.

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@bazza

Including in your post the language "fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory" implies that you think that FRAND has something to do with this. It does not. FRAND is reserved only for standards essential patents, and standards essential patents only come into play when standards bodies get together to create standards that 100% of products in a category must comply with to be compatible (i.e. standards like USB, SATA, h.264, LTE, HDMI, ATSC, etc.) Patents must have been voluntarily submitted to the standards making organization to become FRAND, patents can't be made FRAND against the will of the owner.

If among the patents Microsoft owns is ExFAT, that is not covered by FRAND because it is NOT a standard. It is a Microsoft owned technology that became prevalent in the market because Windows PCs can read it. There's no requirement that phones support ExFAT, and smartphones can be produced that are still smartphones that do not support ExFAT.

Even if Android owned 99.9% of the market, if there were MS patents infringed by Android they would not be FRAND and Microsoft would be under no obligation to license them to anyone at all, let alone on equal terms. They would be within their rights to charge Samsung $30 a handset, and HTC $0.30 a handset if they so chose, or to make per handset price contingent on selling a certain percentage of Windows Phone handsets (at least so long as Windows Phone didn't approach a monopoly share of the market, which doesn't appear too likely)

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Re: Why permit the secrecy

>>"If it isn't, it's certainly arguable that the end user should be able to know what patents they are using."

Certainly I'd be interested to find out, but the "end user" to Microsoft is the company paying to use them to build a phone, not people MS have no dealing with who later buy phones from that company. As was given, there are some solid commercial reasons to keep details of which patents they are confidential. All we can really conclude is that if lawsuit-happy behemoths such as Samsung are willing to pay, that's strong evidence that the patents are robust.

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Re: Why permit the secrecy

> Even if most consumers don't care, we should still be able to obtain a list of which patents there has been paid royalties for with every gadget we buy.

MS would lose their advantage then - which is, without knowing the patent claims, you can't work around them. From what I've seen, most of their licensing deals revolve around FAT based patents, most of which have been invalidated in Germany already.

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that's strong evidence that the patents are robust.

Nope. it just means that the bean counters have decided that it's cheaper to pay than to fight.

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Re: Why permit the secrecy

"is it not arguable that these licences should be frand?"

Only if Microsoft willing contributed all of those patents to essential standards.

However it seems than Microsoft choose to make them available on a FRAND basis anyway.

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Re: Why permit the secrecy

"They're not taking anyone to court (like Apple), they're licensing. They're not refusing to license to anyone."

But would it not make more sense to at least publish a list of all these Android and Linux based patents? After all, they are supposed to protect their IP. Would it not be easier to protect if all the other manufacturers knew up front what MS were going on about so they could approach MS for a licensing deal instead of MS going after them or not use the IP in the first place?

Or maybe MS want manufacturers to infringe and so can "force" a licensing deal on more favourable terms by negotiating under the threat of a sueball. Likewise, once said manufacturer is in production, re-tooling to not infringe might be more costly than licensing.

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Re: Why permit the secrecy

Since all Android vendors seem to be signing up, one would assume it is in base Android. Surely one of them has shared the details with Google of exactly what they're licensing (whether the contract allows it or not) and if it was easy to remove Google would have done so.

Presumably iOS also violates some of these patents (the non-FAT ones) but Apple and Microsoft have had a cross licensing agreement since long ago so Apple didn't have to pay up.

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Devil

Re: that's strong evidence that the patents are robust.

Indeed, so why did MS settle with Barnes and Noble?

Couldn't it be that the 43 page documentation of prior art have something to do with it, and nobody else had the balls to stand up to them?

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Re: that's strong evidence that the patents are robust.

>>Indeed, so why did MS settle with Barnes and Noble?

Presumably because B&N gave them about a sixth of their eBook business and agreed to continue paying royalties on Android to MS. We don't know how much those royalties were, and guess what, we don't know how much they are with anyone else, either.

It's weird that some people keep touting B&N about as an example of how MS patents are weak when it doesn't actually show this at all. It's doubly weird when you realize people must be simultaneously thinking B&N are scaring MS away from actually going to court whilst at the same time acknowledging that the mobile phone industry (incl. companies such as Samsung) haven't even challenged MS.

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Linux

Of course its true!

"That's why we've disclosed all the relevant patents and have pursued the cash-rich inventor of Android and massive competitor, Google, rather than "attacking" our own channel partners and coming to agreements under NDA."

Oddly the other MS' competitors over which MS has no hold (Apple) also doesn't seem to infringe either.

Hmm, nice Windows licensing deal you've got there. It would be a shame if something happened to it...

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Stop

Re: Of course its true!

Apple and Microsoft have a cross-licensing deal. They're covered.

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Re: Of course its true!

As far as I understand it, if I develop a piece of code which infringes patents (as Google allegedly has), I do not necessarily require a licensing agreement. If I sell a product with such software on board, I certainly do. This might be the reason MS is not going after Google (or maybe there are secret agreements, where's me tinfoil hat!!)

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Re: Of course its true!

>>"If I sell a product with such software on board, I certainly do. This might be the reason MS is not going after Google (or maybe there are secret agreements, where's me tinfoil hat!!)"

It's the former. Google are not stupid. They found they could make money through people using Android rather than selling it, and so they avoid having to pay licences by giving it away. Samsung et al. are the ones who have to pay. MS probably could go after Google with them in some very minor way (I think Google has a few tiny channels they technically make money direct from Android), but it would be trivial and a waste. MS want money at the end of the day - they're simple like that.

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Re: Of course its true!

"That's why we've disclosed all the relevant patents"

That would be stupid - people could start to work around them and that would leave microsoft in a weaker position

"and have pursued the cash-rich inventor of Android and massive competitor, Google"

Of course. And it all seems to be going Microsoft's way so far:

http://www.wired.com/2013/11/rockstar-2/

http://wmpoweruser.com/microsoft-finally-sues-google-directly-for-patent-infringement/

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And 100% of software patents are bunk. Whoever thought applying patents to software was an idiot. Software patents do nothing for innovation and everything for extortion.

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How do you know they are software patents?

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I agree and disagree. Front end software patents are utter bunk, things like "a method of displaying an icon on a screen with the use of pixels... for a mobile device" or "Bounce back" when you scroll too far. Basically all software design patents.

I'd also say the vast majority of hidden front end stuff shouldn't be patentable, 'patented' spell and grammar checkers for example.

But the completely back end only stuff, filesystems, ways for operating the kernel, I believe this stuff should be protected since it provides something pretty major while at the same time it wouldn't be that obvious to the majority, I mean how many years did it take to put together exFAT or NTFS etc. If it were so simple, android would have migrated to GooFS (google filesystem I just made up) to get around the patent issue.

I think design stuff should however be protected under copyright, just not patent.

On a similar note, I've got a feeling the stuff microsoft is extracting royalties for probably relates to the filesystem / kernel areas. If I remember rightly the Linux kernel makes use of numerous microsoft patents, but is protected by a cross licensing deal of some variety, although android is built off of the linux kernel it's a distinct fork so probably lacks said protection, and I imagine that's where microsoft have gotten their in.

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@wowfood

"I've got a feeling the stuff microsoft is extracting royalties for probably relates to the filesystem / kernel areas"

I believe you are correct

But to find this out you need to read the original judgement, or commentary on, held in China. Or have someone who works for you who can.

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Anonymous Coward

"If it were so simple, android would have migrated to GooFS (google filesystem I just made up) to get around the patent issue."

There are plenty of excellent GPLd filesystems they could use, the problem is all the exFAT cards for cameras & so on - they have to read those.

"If I remember rightly the Linux kernel makes use of numerous microsoft patents"

AFAIK only in MS FUD

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Vic
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If I remember rightly the Linux kernel makes use of numerous microsoft patents, but is protected by a cross licensing deal of some variety

You do not remember rightly.

Microsoft keeps *claiming* that hte Linux kernel violates a large number of its patents. But they have refused to let on which ones.

The commuinity as a whole believes them to be FUDding. There is no evidence to refute such a position.

Vic.

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How many non-exFAT filesystems could you write for 100 of millions?

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And they would all fail. No filesystem for portable media can be practical in Windows cannot read it out of the box, and Microsoft certainty isn't going to act in support of a rival to their own patented technology.

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What would you bother? ext2 is adequate for most purposes and already exists. You'd need to bundle the Windows ext2 implementation as part of the "PC tools" for your phone, and persuade your customers to actually install those, but once you've done that you've broken the FAT licensing gravy train forever. *That* is what Microsoft are worried about.

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MS Support

"Microsoft certainty isn't going to act in support of a rival to their own patented technology"

I think they would if mainstream manufacturers switched. As for "out of the box", most hardware still comes with a cd with extra stuff on, why not bundle a ext4 driver? Plus a lot of devices now support MTP, the underlying file system is then irrelevant from the point of view of the connected PC. Always surprised MTP has not bitten MS in the foot by affecting their FAT licensing.

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Why can't manufacturers default to UDF? It's supported by practically every OS made in the last 20 years, it's a royalty-free ISO standard (I believe).

Why (Ex)Fat? Are there some caveats with UDF?

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I assume ...

... that they use exFAT to make the files compatible with any (thus many) Windows PCs that are used to read SD cards from an Android device or connect to an Android device?

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Re: I assume ...

There's nothing stopping anyone doing a decent ext4 file system driver for Windows, and it could become something that everyone just knows they have to install.

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Re: I assume ...

Doubt it's exFAT or any kind of FAT, practically nothing accepts SD cards any more and if you plug a USB cable into an Android phone it uses MTP not mass storage so the computer doesn't care what filesystem is on the phone.

Maybe it's MTP that MS is bludgeoning Android manufacturers over the head with.

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Re: I assume ...

>There's nothing stopping anyone doing a decent ext4 file system driver for Windows,

It probably is doable (although not so simple: there is a quite a bit of impedance mismatch between how Linux and Windows handle files, like how protections are handled, and the case sensitivity issue).

>and it could become something that everyone just knows they have to install.

This is where it falls down. Unless you can somehow automate it totally (like getting the driver quickly installed the first time an ext4-formatted SD card is plugged in), most users will not bother with cards requiring such tricks.

A little-known fact is that the UDF file system could in principle be used on other media than DVD:s as a read-write file system, and many operating systems already support it, Windows included. So trying to get flash card vendors to use that would be a better plan.

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Re: I assume ...

" practically nothing accepts SD cards any more "

What ! - many cameras, videos - my Canon 450D and Panasonic HD1080p/50 video cameras for example.

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Re: I assume ...

Ok, limiting 'nothing' to Android mobiles, considering the story and the list of manufacturers that MS is going after.

Cameras/camcorders can easily get around FAT issues, all they have to do is save every photo to the SD card with an 8.3 format name. MS has a patent on devices understanding long format names.

Some argue that if the device reads or writes long file names but not both then it's not covered by the patent, I suppose that depends on how lucky the device manufacturer's lawyers feel.

Like someone else said, UDF might also be an answer. If anyone could push it it's probably Google with but it seems like they've already decided on removing SD card support and using MTP and cloud drives.

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Re: I assume ...

First, isn't exFAT considered SEP because it's part of the SDXC spec, meaning all SDXC cards you buy come in that format?

Second, doesn't UDF have a big memory overhead?

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Re: I assume ...

>Second, doesn't UDF have a big memory overhead?

I haven't heard of it having any worse memory requirements than other non-ancient file systems. Surely larger than FAT, but that is also true of exFAT (which does not have much to do with the old FAT file system, apart from the name). UDF comes in several variants to handle non-overwritable media, but flash cards and USB drives would only need one, the simplest read/write variant.

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