Apple licensed 'design patents' to Microsoft, protecting Windows Phone and tablets

Say what you will about Microsoft and Apple but the two companies either appear to be the only adults in the room or alternatively, they have formed an alliance against Android. Or maybe both.

Evidence has come forth in the Apple-Samsung trial that the former has licensed so-called ‘design patents’ to Microsoft, which indemnify them against lawsuits from Apple over their Windows Phone and Surface tablets. This may partially explain why Apple was trying to collect patent royalties from Samsung in their late 2010 offer to the company.

Although details of exactly what is covered in the patents was not revealed, the backroom deal looks to be an extension of contracts that Microsoft and Apple have had going back to the 1980’s to cooperate and license proper technology where applicable, avoiding public courtroom spats.

One caveat of the deal though was made public: Microsoft could not “clone” any Apple products with the patents. Of course anyone who has used a Windows Phone or has seen Windows 8 tablets know that any similarities between them and Apple’s products would be a stretch. But Apple does hold broad rights on the iPhone's “look and feel” which theoretically could give them teeth in court to pursue Microsoft if they wanted. But seeing as the two companies have a mutual, cross-licensing deal in place, the companies are legally in a détente against each other. That leaves Apple free to go “thermonuclear” on Android and their partners, which is what we’re seeing now with Samsung.

Microsoft is also well known to have insured their OEMs against any litigation, should any be brought against them, providing legal coverage and financial assistance. Combined with the above deal between the two tech-juggernauts, hardware manufactures may be breathing a sigh of relief while others may re-consider doubling down on Windows Phone in the future.

The court case between Apple and Samsung could be wrapped up within the next week. Its verdict may have far-reaching ramifications for the smartphone industry, specifically Samsung’s bread and butter, Android.

Source: Reuters

Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central. He is also the head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft since 2007, when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, laptops, next-gen computing, and watches. He has been reviewing laptops since 2015 and is particularly fond of 2-in-1 convertibles, ARM processors, new form factors, and thin-and-light PCs. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics, watched people sleep (for medical purposes!), and ran the projectors at movie theaters because it was fun.