For more than three years now, Microsoft has held to the line that it has loads of patents that are infringed by Google’s Android operating system. Microsoft has revealed a few of those patents since as it has unleashed litigation against Android device makers. But for the most part, they’ve remained secret. That’s led to a kind of parlor game where industry observers have speculated about what patents Microsoft might be holding over Android.
That long guessing game is now over. A list of hundreds of patents that Microsoft believes entitle it to royalties over Android phones, and perhaps smartphones in general, has been published on a Chinese language website.
The patents Microsoft plans to wield against Android describe a range of technologies. They include lots of technologies developed at Microsoft, as well as patents that Microsoft acquired by participating in the Rockstar Consortium, which spent $4.5 billion on patents that were auctioned off after the Nortel bankruptcy. The list of patents was apparently produced as part of a Chinese government antitrust review relating to Microsoft’s purchase of Nokia. Microsoft described the results of that review in an April 8 blog post, writing that the Chinese Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) “concluded after its investigation that Microsoft holds approximately 200 patent families that are necessary to build an Android smartphone.”
To suggest the lists are the “conclusion” of the Chinese government is unusual phrasing. It’s unlikely anyone other than Microsoft itself would have the expertise and resources needed to sift through its thousands of patents and decide which ones they believe read on Android. More likely, Microsoft was compelled to produce the list to appease Chinese regulators, who feared that the software giant could become more aggressive with its patents after the Nokia purchase. It seems equally likely that Microsoft wouldn’t be too thrilled about the patents being published on a public webpage. In fact, the English-language version of the MOFCOM site about the merger doesn’t have the patent lists.
The list includes 73 standard-essential patents, but there’s also 127 patents that Microsoft claims are implemented in Android. Some on the list, as Ars Technica notes, include patents that Microsoft acquired as part of the Rockstar Consortium to bid on patents from Nortel. All 14 patents used by Microsoft to file a lawsuit against Barnes & Noble are also included. It’s a significant list, and one that Microsoft will have wanted to avoid making public. The software maker has faced criticism over its Android licensing practices, especially from Barnes & Noble, which asked the Justice Department for an antitrust investigation into Microsoft’s attempts to “kill off” Android devices from smaller players with license fees and lawsuits. Microsoft is estimated to earn as much as $1 billion a year from Android-related licensing revenue.