Chinese Government Publishes Secret List Of Microsoft's Anti-Android Patents

from the not-so-secret-anymore dept

A few years back, Microsoft trumpeted a series of high-profile licensing deals with manufacturers of smartphones and tablets whose Android-based products, it claimed, were infringing on its patents. As we pointed out, the deals proved nothing about the validity of that claim — just that Microsoft and the companies concerned had come to some mutually-acceptable arrangement, of which nearly all details were kept secret. In particular, Microsoft refused to reveal which of its many patents it claimed were infringed upon by Android. This allowed it to point to the licensing deals as “proof” that Android was infringing without ever actually needing to demonstrate that in the courts. It could then go to other manufacturers and encourage them to sign up too, which of course strengthened its story yet further for the round of negotiations after that.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, China has just put a stop to that clever, self-sustaining approach by revealing the patents involved. Microsoft was required to list them as part of the approvals process by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) for the US company’s acquisition of Nokia. As Ars Technica explains:

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.

More specifically:

The Chinese agency published two lists on a Chinese-language webpage where it laid out conditions related to the approved merger. The webpage has an English version, but it doesn’t include the patent lists. There’s a longer list [MS Word Doc] of 310 patents and patent applications and then a shorter list [MS Word Doc] of just over 100 patents and applications that MOFCOM focused on.

Doubtless lawyers at many companies with products using Android are busy poring over those lists, which include US patent numbers as well as titles in English. At the very least, the release of these lists will make Microsoft’s attempts to sign up new licensees much harder, since now companies will know exactly what Microsoft is claiming in this regard before they enter into any negotiations. Moreover, it’s good news for the open source community, which is able to examine what claims Microsoft might be making about the free software elements of Android, allowing those to be challenged with prior art, say, or coded around.

But there’s another important aspect here. Microsoft had managed to keep the lid on its secret anti-Android list of patents for many years. What changed things was the emergence of China as a sufficiently important market that the US company felt obliged to accede to the Chinese government’s demands for a full list of the patents involved. The publication of the patent lists on the MOFCOM Web site is an indication that China will play by its own rules here, even — or perhaps especially — when it is dealing with what was once the world’s most powerful computing company.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or, and +glynmoody on Google+

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Companies: microsoft, nokia

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Comments on “Chinese Government Publishes Secret List Of Microsoft's Anti-Android Patents”

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Anonymous Coward says:

I thought patents were about transparency? To share useful information with the world about a great new invention. Yet here we have Microsoft trying to claim infringement on secret patents that are not to be disclosed (providing back no useful transparency yet reaping the benefits of the monopolies that patents provide) and it is the Chinese government (not the patent happy U.S. government that pushes for patents in the name of invention transparency) that’s providing and requiring actual transparency.

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Normally, patents are about transparency, in order to ensure that licensing occurs rather than infringment.

But the Microsoft approach has been to “extort” secrecy. Basically, “Agree to license this list of patents we will not show you until after you license it or we will haul you into court and destroy you.”

A quick skim of the list shows why: A lot of the patents are in the category of “how to translate a screen touch into a browser link selection”–i.e., nuisance patents with no merit.

But it’s a roll of the dice: If the company refused to agree to Microsoft’s demand and dragged it to court, just one patent held to be valid would ruin them.

David says:


“I thought patents where about transparency…” Microsoft’s patents are transparent and publicly available. What was “secret” was which patents out of their entire portfolio was being claimed against Android.

So that realm of possibility has been reduced from thousands of largely irrelevant patents, to a hard target of ~300.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: David

“What was “secret” was which patents out of their entire portfolio was being claimed against Android.”

Which provides us little transparency into how to make an Android device or any other technology that’s allegedly covered by these patents (since we don’t know what technologies each patent refers to).

Even with this ‘disclosure’ we still have very little telling us anything useful beyond the obvious so these patents are still providing us with very little useful transparency. The only thing they provide us with is an idea of what developers need to work around which means the patents only serve as a burden to developers and not as something that helps them.

David says:

Re: Re: David

It provides us with a great deal more transparency. Given the list of patents, you can go to the and look them all up. That part is transparent. The trick will be either demonstrating non-infringment, re-coding to be non-infringing, or invalidating the patents. Unfortunately, there will likely be a small number that may be somewhat legitimate, but at least we will know about them (and more importantly, when they expire).

Of course, this will take one or more companies to believe that the risk is worth the cost compared to the licensing costs. But now we have something tangible to investigate.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: David

The transparency that the Chinese government brings is useful in combating the misuse of these patents but that doesn’t make the alleged ‘transparency’ that the existence of the patents provides us very useful. IOW, we would still be better off without these patents than with the alleged transparency that the existence of these patents brings.

Where are the patents that tell me how to build my android device? How to put it together, how to build the software for it, and come up from scratch with a fully functional android device? All of that is trade secret. The patents are useless and only serve to provide incumbents with the benefits of monopolies without providing the public and competitors with the benefits of any useful transparency.

Anonymous Coward says:

China’s on track to overtake the US as the largest economy in the world, by the end of this year. It’s not surprising they’re using their weight as the top economic powerhouse to push the smaller US companies around.

Such is the way in the cut-throat world of globalization. American corporations moved all their industries over to China and helped build them up into the largest economy in the world. Now the Chinese government wields the majority of financial power, and those US companies must now play by China’s rules.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re:

American corporations moved all their industries over to China and helped build them up into the largest economy in the world. Now the Chinese government wields the majority of financial power, and those US companies must now play by China’s rules.

As the communists used to say, the capitalists would sell them the rope which which they would be hanged!

Matthew A. Sawtell (profile) says:

For those that have been dealing with China for awhile...

… this is pretty much par for the course for those technologies that the powers to be in Beijing deem ‘relevant’ for keeping the ‘harmory’ going within the Chinese borders. Woe be any individual, group, or nation that attempts to disrupt that ‘harmony’. If there are those that can benefit from this event, do not expect a repeat performance any time soon.

Lorraine Tarnove says:

Game of patent and negotiation

I have been watching this game of patent and negotiation from years. The industry of mobile app development has shown many cases where features are claimed as patients and later they are either moderated or got paid off.
But this one looks like an attempt from Microsoft to grow their market; not be offering something awesome but by pulling others from the top.

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