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Samsung, Microsoft to share Patents?

September 26, 2014 - Written By David Steele

I can draw many parallels between Samsung and Microsoft. Both operate in competitive markets, both have products that are almost universal and both have an axe to grind against Apple. They’ve also been arguing against one another in another branch of the mobile industry patent war, where it seems that the only winner is the legal profession. It seems that both Microsoft and Samsung acknowledge that it would be beneficial for both businesses to use one anothers’ patents as we wrote last month but we’ve not heard much about this since.

I’ll take a moment to explain this particular set of patent battles. In 2011, Microsoft agreed terms with the manufacturers of Android devices for a licence of, depending where you read, between $7 to $15 a handset. It’s used this as a tool to persuade manufacturers use Windows Phone, as this licence fee doesn’t apply (there’s been no explanation of the Windows Phone licence costs compared with Android, which is free, but companies such as Samsung spend millions on their own user interface). Microsoft in turn use some of Samsung’s wireless patents for their own smartphone business and I just end up asking myself, “wouldn’t it be better if we could all just get along?” Samsung stopped paying the licence, claiming that Microsoft didn’t have the right to charge. Microsoft sued Samsung for the money, which is reputed to amount to $2 billion a year.

Now, an unknown source at Samsung claims that the Chief Executive Officers of both companies have met in order to discuss how to improve relations. The Samsung employee claims that Samsung doesn’t consider Microsoft a rival as Windows Phone is considered as one of the the better alternatives to Android. I’ll come on to this point later. The source also claims that both CEOs discussed ways to work together in key areas such as mobile security and cloud computing. This would indicate that the knives are down and the hands are out to make peace, but a few things don’t entirely add up in my book. Firstly, the remark that Windows Phone is a better alternative to Android and secondly, the rather vague “they’re talking about mobile security and cloud computing” statement.

Let’s dissect this and take a look at the mobile device operating systems. We have Apple’s iOS, only available to Apple hardware. We have Microsoft Windows Phone, available to licence. There’s LG’s WebOS, which last we heard was being put into smart TVs. Samsung have Tizen, being shoehorned into smartwatches with a smartphone to come. There’s Symbian, yeah okay let’s forget about that. BlackBerry have classic or legacy Java-based BlackBerry OS and BlackBerry 10 based on QNX, but this has only been available for BlackBerry hardware. We also have a legion of LINUX-based operating systems, some of which look very interesting but so far have amounted to a very tiny proportion of handsets. On the security side of things, parts of Samsung’s KNOX has been adopted by Google into Android L. Not to mention that Google has joined the Simply Secure organisation to improve online security. Microsoft already have a successful cloud storage platform, which competes with Google Drive.

Digesting this, the available operating systems to manufacturers appears to be limited to Android, Windows Phone and Tizen, in market share order. The statement that Windows Phone is one of the better alternatives to Android doesn’t really tell us much! It sounds like both organisations realise that they need one another but don’t want to admit this to the market in as many words.