updated 04:55 pm EDT, Tue June 17, 2014
Regulators reviewing Nokia deal find 310 patents Microsoft leverage against Android
After the Chinese Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) approved Microsoft's purchase of Nokia's device and services business, Microsoft was found to have 200 patent families necessary to build Android phones. In the process of posting news on the merger approval, however, the MOFCOM posted a list of 310 Microsoft patents that Android could be infringing upon.
These patents have been used against Android device manufacturers, with only a small number revealed to the public. The MOFCOM had reviewed around 100 patents during the course of the review, according to Ars Technica. However, there are large implications other than just displaying a number of previously-unmentioned patents by the operating system developer.
When speaking to Business Insider last year, Nomura analyst Rick Sherlund said that Microsoft makes an estimated $2 billion a year through patent licensing to Android vendors. The uncovered listing is believed to contain all of the patents that Microsoft could use to leverage lucrative licensing deals from device makers using Android.
The review by MOFCOM sought the patent list as part of an inquiry to see if Microsoft could use them in an anti-competitive way. In a statement from the company in April regarding the approval, Microsoft "http://blogs.technet.com/b/microsoft_blog/archive/2014/04/08/chinese-ministry-of-commerce-approves-microsoft-nokia-deal.aspx">said the approval by MOFCOM "effectively adopts Microsoft's current patent-licensing practices."
The list of Microsoft-owned patents includes 73 standard-essential patients (SEP), and 127 non-SEP patents Microsoft claims are used in Android. Another section lists 68 patent applications and 42 awarded patents. Microsoft's SEPs mainly relate to networking and general use in smartphones. A few patents in the list were obtained as a result of the consortium purchase of Nortel patents in 2011.
With Microsoft touting more transparency with Internet Explorer and looking to change its public image, the news can be construed as as a step backwards. The company has been selective in which patents it uses in legal actions up to this point. Instead of throwing the lot of them at developers, Microsoft has only used a few at a time in court battles.
By having the MOFCOM post all of the patents that Microsoft could use against Android, manufacturers will have a better understanding of what they can and cannot do without a licensing agreement. Microsoft won't be able to keep their collection in the dark to use at their discretion anymore, but it should help ease some disputes over intellectual properties. It may speed along the transparency that Microsoft started in the system when it first posted a tracker for company-owned patents last year.
A MS Word file of the 310 patents can be found at the MOFCOM website.