back to article Apple, Microsoft reveal their Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

Testimony this week in the Apple-Samsung patent trial has thrown new light on the tech world's equivalent of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact - the 1939 peace deal between Germany and the Soviets. Apple and Microsoft have a non-aggression treaty giving each giant access to a range of each other's intellectual property. This means …


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  1. Tom Chiverton 1


    "Microsoft has promised not to clone the iPhone or iPad"

    See WinRT story today... ?

  2. ukgnome Silver badge

    Re: Ummm

    Yes - it's not a clone and Apple and Microsoft have a non-aggression treaty giving each giant access to a range of each other's intellectual property.

    same features different interface

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Ummm

    That's why WinRT must absolutely have some sort of a keyboard prominently displayed together with the ugly Fisherprice interface.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Ummm

    A mobile OS, suitable to run on a tablet does not mean that said tablet/OS pairing is a clone of another tablet/OS pairing. Particularly when the UI is clearly totally different.

  5. That Steve Guy

    Re: Ummm

    Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, the MS app store, Surface, and the Interface formally known as Metro all suggest M$ is not taking that pledge seriously.

  6. lurker

    Re: Ummm

    @That Steve Guy

    Although Apple would like the world to think otherwise, they do not in fact have a patent on all touchscreen interfaces or the concepts of 'smartphones' and 'tablets', or on stores where you can buy software online ('App Stores') or indeed smartphone 'Apps' themselves. Hardly surprising since they didn't invent a single one of these things.

    What Apple are trying to protect in court right now their 'look and feel', and Metro / RT etc are sufficiently non-Apple in style that MS are clearly sticking to their side of that agreement, nobody could really mistake Surface for an iPad, or the Nokia WP8 handets for an iPhone.

  7. Tom 35 Silver badge

    Re: Ummm

    Microsoft has promised not to clone the iPhone or iPad. and Win8 looks nothing like an iThing. But they didn't say they would not clone the Apple business model.

  8. h4rm0ny Silver badge

    Re: Ummm

    Windows 8 looks very very different to both OSX and iOS, im;, the Surfaces have this different software on them as well as being a hybrid devices rather than a pure tablets. And as to the App store, I don't believe the story actually listed this as something they'd agreed not to compete on at all, you just added that in.

    That said, this sort of non-compete stuff is bad for all of us both because we benefit from real competition and because it creates a barrier to entry for new companies.

  9. That Steve Guy

    Re: Ummm

    There may be peace now because of the common enemy of google but make no mistake they are competing for the same space in the market.

    This is not really about copying devices and everything to do with market domination.

    Microsoft really do not have much of a presence in the tablet/phone market and Apple know this so they are not worried about them. Google is the threat and having Microsoft on side draws the flack from them.

  10. Mark .

    Re: Ummm

    People have pointed out the differences, but a bigger question is why doesn't Apple see it as a copy anyway - since Samsung haven't copied either, but Apple still thinks they have.

    An obvious question is that Apple have a lot more to lose here - Apple aren't going to blow this agreement for some joke "we invented rounded rectangles" claim, as MS could then go after them for use of real patents. These kinds of cross-licensing deals are common between companies (and are a reason why patents are bad - they don't matter for large multinationals with lots of patents, but make it harder for small/new companies to enter a market). This is presumably why Apple aren't going after Nokia either. If Apple tried to ban Nokia's phones, then Nokia would just pull the plug on their real patents, and get all Iphones banned.

    Not sure why Samsung don't countersue with some of their patents - perhaps they don't have any that they can do so with? (And unlike Apple, didn't bother to patent simple things like basic geometry.)

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Ummm

    It's not a clone, it is different enough in visual design and operation.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Ummm

    "People have pointed out the differences, but a bigger question is why doesn't Apple see it as a copy anyway - since Samsung haven't copied either, but Apple still thinks they have."

    Apple knows as well as everyone else that Samsung didn't copy anything that wasn't legally copyable. The difference is that Microsoft are the dying dinosaur and Samsung is the gnawing mammals in the hatchery.

    That metaphor sounded better in my head.

  13. iucidium

    Re: Ummm

    Samsung aren't 'uhmerricun'

  14. Thomas 18
    Thumb Up

    "This isn't about sharing technology, it's about establishing a strong corporate monopoly which keeps out new innovators with our combined patent portfolio. Between our patents prohibiting the use of the letter x or i and the patents on white plastic we are confident we can establish a decades long hegemony" Apple's intellectual property licensing director Boris Teksler did not tell the San Jose court.

  15. Tom 13

    Re: it's about establishing a strong corporate monopoly which keeps out new innovators

    Same thought struck me. And it also strikes me that Apple could have made a go of it, if only they had left off the MS agreement and treated them the same as Samsung.

    Yes, the agreement makes sense in the direct confrontation, but here's the catch: the agreement opens them up to anti-trust charges. At some point someone/thing makes the argument that the agreement establishes a monopoly position for the two giants, one that wouldn't exist without the collusion of the agreement. Since the key point in US law is not the monopoly itself but the illegal acquisition or extension of one, it is a perfect case. Particularly if it is a US governmental agency or consumer protection group, they don't necessarily have to win in court for it to damage both Apple and Microsoft. Just drag it out long enough, demand enough documents, and get access to some that the groups would like to protect, e.g. the specifics of the agreements referred to in this trial but which were shielded by the judge with the consent of all involved.

  16. Matt Bryant Silver badge

    Re: it's about establishing a strong corporate monopoly which keeps out new innovators

    ".....At some point someone/thing makes the argument that the agreement establishes a monopoly position for the two giants...." Not really as M$ is not stopping other companies BUYING patent licenses (for example see the FAT licenses for Android phone makers), they are just pricing them at a realistic point that the licensees decide it is cheaper to pay up rather than go to court. This may be because M$ has realised it cannot be top dog in the phone or tablet market now but can make a nice profit off others' success. Apple, on the other hand, is top dog and looking to kill off other competitors, hence their ridiculous charge of $30 per mobile to Samsung - there was no way Samsung would accept such a millstone around their necks. As long as M$ and Apple make license offers they are relatively safe from the monopoly charge, but if Apple keep pricing it high and using it as a weapon to blatantly blunt competition then Apple could end up being accused of anti-competitive actions in court.

    The more damaging effect is on consumer mindshare. Apple rules in tablet and phone because of customer loyalty because they like to portray themselves as the underdog rather than the consensus. Nothing would kill iPhone market appeal and sales more than for someone to tell the fanbois they have become the square choice, the supporters of the "oppressors". That is why Samsung's legal team leaked the evidence they were not allowed to present in court to the press, because they want to also win in the consumer's mind. A year or so ago I would not have bought a Samsung Android phone (I prefer HTC's) or tablet but I'm seriously considering one now.

  17. Blitheringeejit

    Costs saved, cheaper stuff..?

    So, now that Apple and Microsoft are NOT spending billions of dollars a year suing each other, can we hope that these cost savings will be reflected in cheaper products and cheaper software licensing? You know, the way the oil companies always drop the price of petrol when crude prices tank?

    Why do I not have a good feeling about this? Could it be because I don't hold any Apple or Microsoft stock?

  18. Laurent_Z

    Mutual Non agression pact...

    Or RIPA style cartel ?

    On paper it is just a cross licencing deal, but in practice... it's a cartel of interest that allows to stifle competition...

    hey, European Union ! You still have some dibs to sort with Microsoft ? now is a good time to dust them out !

  19. roselan

    official now

    Lots of people did suspect this sort of deal existed.

    The real question is why trade commissions/authorities didn't investigate this possible breach of competition and antitrust laws until now.

  20. Mark .

    Re: official now

    It's anti-competitve to decide not to sue each other over pointless patents? I wish more companies would do this...

  21. Observer1959

    Re: official now

    This type of deal has existed between these two companies since MS gave Apple the infamous $150m and promised 5 more years of Mac Office back in the late 90s when Jobs returned to Apple. It was announced at a MacWorld event with a big screen of Gates behind Jobs at a keynote. That deal also stopped the suing between the companies. The are some today who think this was MS saving Apple which is far from the truth.

  22. iucidium

    Re: official now

    Because its pumping money into the chinamerican economy.

  23. Matt Bryant Silver badge

    Wrong analogy.

    Using the analogy of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact is incorrect in that it compares Apple and M$ to two violently aggressive powers which had the intent to conquer as many other countries as possible. Whilst this comparison is valid with Apple's overtly aggressive approach to competition, M$ has learned from the trials of the past and their oblique attack of undermining of Android's and (hence Linux's) "freeness" is both much smarter and going to be a lot less costly. It is a shame that so many techies have too much of a rabid reaction to M$ to admit that their approach - "you want FOSS, go ahead, just pay us just enough to make it inconvenient" - is a lot smarter than Apple's - "DIE COPYING FREETARD SCUM!!!!" Whilst Apple is taking the sledgehammer approach to patents, M$ is using much subtler lawfare strategies.

  24. toadwarrior

    Re: Wrong analogy.

    Apple isn't that bad given they do more for open source than MS and not ina way that makes you concerned they'll turn around and screw you and while you may not agree with them at least their general stance is of someone genuinely protecting there work. Where as microsoft isn't interested in halting anything because the point is to bleed as many companies as possible and hopefully convince them to use WP7 rather pay them out for using android. Which, imo, is worse. They're not trying to protect their stuff just bully people as usual.

  25. g e

    Poor old Google & Amazon

    Sounds like Apple & MS have a bit of business envy in common, each company is also shitty enough in its practices to consider teaming up with the other to kick their competition-in-common, too. NOt that that behaviour is limited to those two but well, y'know...

    Look out for even less innovation, near you soon.

  26. Robert Ramsay

    'Steve Jobs ... vowed to spend his "dying breath destroying Android"'

    ...And did he?

  27. Anonymous Coward 101

    "Microsoft has also targeted Android licensees, taking advantage of Google's naivety and posturing over intellectual property. By striking patent licensing agreements it's taken the main advantage, the zero cost, out of open-source-ish Android. According to one executive, it's cheaper to license Microsoft's platform than the nominally "free" Android. This forced Google to grow up fast, spending $12bn on something it didn't really want: Motorola Mobility."

    Because companies spending billions of dollars on patent stockpiles solely to reduce the possibility of them being sued creates economic value?

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Words Cartel And Duopoly Come To Mind

    Time to give MS and Apple a good kicking from the EU competition commission.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: The Words Cartel And Duopoly Come To Mind

    Why? do Apple + Microsoft have a monopoly in the mobile market? nope, far from it.

  30. chr0m4t1c

    Re: The Words Cartel And Duopoly Come To Mind

    I've been wondering the same thing, I think what we have here is the usual failure of comprehension that goes on in these forums.

    Apple & MS (sorry, crApple and M$) have a cross-licensing deal for each other's patents that includes an agreement to not copy each other's products or sue each other. That's it. It's not an agreement to "go after" other companies, nor is it an agreement that they won't have products in the same category that provide the same functionality.

    But, it seems, this is anti-competitive.

    So, can one of the many downvoters I'm likely to get explain to me exactly how this is anti-competitive? By which I mean I would like an actual coherent argument rather than something that boils down to "because it's Apple/Microsoft and I have decided they are evil and must be destroyed".

    Oh, and you'll need to take into account that a similar agreement almost certainly exists between Motorola and all of the major Android using companies and explain why the same argument doesn't apply to them.

  31. kyza



    There's a word that starts with 'car' and ends in 'tel', but I just can't think if it right now.

  32. Lars Silver badge


    I think you are looking for "business as usual" and not referring to your post I think the pact stuff was quite good.

    Now lets see who is the first to break that pact. Now then wait, what did Apple promise.

  33. Tom 13

    @kyza: Please, NO!

    Not another car analogy!

  34. Turtle

    "Naivety and posturing"? Please.

    "Microsoft has also targeted Android licensees, taking advantage of Google's naivety and posturing over intellectual property."

    The only "naivety" here is Google's delusion that they have somehow been liberated from any legal obligation to respect the intellectual property of others. Seeing that they have, and are continuing, to act as though they believe this, there is no reason to assume that their belief is "posturing" - it's a pretty safe bet to think that they really do believe it.

  35. Anonymous Coward

    Re: "Naivety and posturing"? Please.

    Nice troll - "obligation to respect the intellectual property of others". You even included the candidate to the worst oxymoron ever, "intellectual property". We are talking of patents on rectangles with round corners, and on monopoly abuse - trivial patents on a filesystem that is part of the uSD standard.

    You just forgot the troll icon...

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The real losers ..

    The fact that Android and Open Source even exists fundamentally dilutes such patent claims, which are essentially worthless, that's why they're so desperate to drown the baby. As the article stated the main use of such cross-licence agreements is to squeeze potential rivals out of the market. But the article is incorrect in claiming that Google were naive in relation to intellectual property. Microsoft isn't suing Google over Android, it's squeezing the less able to defend themselves downstream Google customers. Rather then being naive, Google could only be accused of underestimating the debts the the legal department at Microsoft would stoop to. The real losers are the rest of the Tech Industry.

  37. Mikel


    Apparently they've been lovers since 1994. They hid it well.

  38. iucidium

    Et tu, Brute?

    Its perfect - doesn't clone the iPad AND uses Apple patents all within the treaty - saturate the hell out of the tablet market Microsoft and drive that knife in good!

  39. stpete

    Molotov/Ribbentrop Pact

    So then who's Germany?

    Who's going to attack who?

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    oh, for the love of...

    Re: all the idiots above talking about cartels and competition law regarding Apple's and Microsofts deal...

    They made a deal to to

    a) respect each other's IP.

    Newsflash to dimwits! They made a deal to respect the law! Turns out respecting the law is legal! Duh!

    b) Made cross licencing deals to use each other's patents.

    Newsflash to dimwits! Making a deal to use someone else's patent in exchange for money or other services (such as access to other patents) is what the patent system is FOR! Its not just legal, its how patents are SUPPOSED TO BE USED! You patent something and then charge other people to use it!

    For gods sake get a clue, people!

  41. Alan Denman

    By not competing you can choose any price

    Obviously the benefits of removing Android are quite apparent.

    Copying is certainly code for 'we want non competition'.

  42. Keith Spencer

    Apple, Samsung and other design(!) patent cases

    FFS I'm getting fed up with this. This is not about patenting a rectangle with round edges or the UI. It's about design and "look and feel". This is VERY common. And there's nothing wrong or unusual with design patents. One of the more entertaining cases relates to P&G sueing Reckitt Benckiser over their Air Wick canister design which they felt infringed their Fabreeze design. P&G had a design patent essentially for their can

    P&G lost in the end even though to you an I they look pretty similar. And this is what this case boils down to. Is the Samsung design and UI a copy that might confuse a lay person and thus infringe the Apple design. There's nothing special here. If Kia launched a car that was astoundingly simialr to an Audi but with Kia badges we'd all understand why Audi might sue. In China this is a significant issue since Chinese companies like to copy western car designs and you see ridiculous Chinese "Rolls Royces" and the like. So what Apple are doign here is not unfair. No desire by Apple to stiffle innovation as the Microsoft Surface demonstrates. I reckon Samsung though they could get away with it and closely copy the Apple look and didn't expect it to escalate this far. Initially I thought Samsung would win but their legal team have been a bit ham fisted so i can see Apple winning this one.

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