Microsoft and Google lay down their IPR weapons

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Microsoft and Google have ended five years of litigation, agreeing to drop about 20 lawsuits in the US and Germany. This brings more than a long-running patents feud to an end - it is also another sign that the industry is wearying of law courts as means to weaken competitors, which may put pressure on Apple to end its own cases.

Google - which was largely an eminence grise behind the scenes of the legal battles Android was waging with Apple and Microsoft - was drawn into the battle directly when it acquired Motorola Mobility for its large store of patents.

Recently, however, the lawsuits have increasingly seemed self-defeating and a distraction from real invention; and the major IPR holders have been more inclined ot band together to drive more transparent approaches to licensing technology, which would stimulate innovation, deter trolls and gain uptake for their platforms. For instance, Google and Microsoft are among the major companies backing the new Alliance for Open Media (AOM), which is promoting a royalty-free, open source alternative to the HEVC/H.265 video codec.

Such alliances make the legal tussles seem anachronistic. The companies, in their joint statement, promised to cooperate in various areas of intellectual property, including development of the royalty-free, video codec; and to lobby for a unified patent system throughout Europe. "Google and Microsoft have agreed to collaborate on certain patent matters and anticipate working together in other areas in the future to benefit our customers," the statement said.

In particular, the firms want to restrict the activities of patent trolls. Google has signed a series of patent truces with major players like Ericsson and Cisco in the past two years, aiming to starve trolls of oxygen.

The companies did not reveal any terms of their new agreement but it ends two sets of claims - that Microsoft owed royalties for Google patents used in Xbox and other products; and that Motorola mobile phones were infringing on some Microsoft Android IPR (the lawsuits stayed with Google when it sold its handset business on to Lenovo), and particularly its ActiveSync technology.

The tide had gone Microsoft's way. The company claimed that Motorola's demands were excessive and broke the Frand (fair reasonable and non-discriminatory) rules for SEP, amounting to about $4bn a year in royalties. In July, a US appeals court agreed that Motorola had breached an agreement on Frand licensing. And Microsoft also succeeded in winning a US injunction against Motorola handsets infringing on the ActiveSync patents, though this was never enforced.

"This opens up the door for partnerships between Google and Microsoft, as Nadella is changing the image of the company into a lover and not a hater of other technology stalwarts," Daniel Ives, an analyst at FBR Capital Markets, told Bloomberg.

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