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Who’s Your IP Daddy?

April 9, 2012

In the world of consumer technology, Apple and Google have been duking it out for the last couple years to get the mindshare of the customer.  Apple has been increasing sales of iPhone and iPad devices, and Google has responded with an increased focus on the Android OS.  What does this all mean?  Well, if you’re Microsoft, it means you need a bigger stick:

AOL said Monday that it has agreed to sell 800 of its patents and their related applications to Microsoft and grant it a license for its remaining patents for a total about $1.06 billion in cash.

I’ve seen Microsoft start to up its legal game in a variety of ways (many of which I can’t sepcifically talk about for various legal reasons).  This is a great and public example.  I would expect that we’ll see more effort by Microsoft to gather and protect its intellectual property.

Why?  Well, Apple has long been known to have a weakness in its creativity.  Along certain bounds, Apple has a strong play.  Outside of that, it starts to get into trouble.  Minor examples could be the problem they had with antenna reliability on the iPhone, or some of the battery problems they hit as they ramped up to higher-speed wireless.  At some point, the IP they own is likely to need some refresh, and Microsoft would like to have a hand on the wheel if possible.  Apple is notorious for being aggressive on its own IP defense, so Microsoft wants to let them know what payback might feel like.

Google, to me, is also still very week on the legal front.  Google hasn’t proven that it can win even the most minor of lawsuits, and they also have a pretty broad view of how to handle technology.  This is a potential weak point that many competitors will be using in the years to come, and I’d expect Microsoft — a veteran of very tough legal wrangling — to use every amount of experience to win here.

One point to remember with Microosft: they’re still in the catbird seat.  We forget about the reach of the Windows OS and their base server and client applications.  Once Microsoft releases a new OS, it takes less than two years before pretty much everyone in the developed world touches it on a daily basis.  Meanwhile, a couple million people are using iPhones to hop through a Microsoft server environment to get business done.  I wouldn’t count Microsoft out of the game yet.

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