Microsoft is suing Kyocera, a Japanese consumer electronics maker whose Android products it says are infringing on seven Microsoft patents. Kyocera is one of only a handful of Android device makers to refuse to license Microsoft’s relevant patents, following firms such as Motorola and Barnes & Noble, the latter of which eventually settled.
“Among [the] infringing products are cellular telephones, including but not limited to, Kyocera’s Duraforce, Hydro, and Brigadier lines of cellular telephones,” one count of the lawsuit filing notes, with similar language used to describe the other six alleged infringements. “Defendants’ infringement has caused and is continuing to cause damage and irreparable injury to [Microsoft], and [Microsoft] will continue to suffer such injury unless and until infringement is enjoined by this Court.”
The software giant is asking a federal judge to halt the sale of infringing Kyocera devices in the United States.
“We respect Kyocera but we believe they need to license the patented technology they are using,” Microsoft general counsel David Howard said. “We’re hopeful this case will be resolved amicably.”
Trying to decipher the infringing patents from the lawsuit filing will make for some tough reading. One is related to “atomic operations on data structures,” for example, while another concerns the equally nebulous “dynamically variable idle time thread scheduling.” The most interesting—i.e. understandable—patent, perhaps, relates to a “method and apparatus for using multiple sensors in a device with a display,” which appears to be related to refreshing the device display based on movement and orientation changes to the display, say from portrait mode to landscape mode.
Oddly, Microsoft and Kyocera already have a constructive patent licensing history: In 2007, Microsoft entered into a “broad cross-licensing agreement” with Kyocera subsidiary Kyocera Mita which provided each company access to the other’s patent portfolio. Of course, this happened at the dawn of the modern smart phone era, and Kyocera Mita was specifically licensing Microsoft patents for its “multifunction products (MFPs), printers, copiers and certain Linux-based embedded devices.” But the licensing was to include coverage for “future product lines,” so it’s not clear why Kyocera’s Android devices aren’t covered by this agreement.
For its part, Microsoft has managed to convince numerous Android device makers to license its patents and avoid expensive court battles. Patent licensing has been lucrative for the software giant as well: in 2013, it earned $3.4 billion in patent licensing revenues, much of which came from Android device makers. And Microsoft recently settled a patent dispute with Samsung, which had been paying it over $1 billion a year in patent licensing fees.
Unfortunately for Microsoft, its Android-related patent portfolio, used so long as a cudgel against the device makers that are handily beating Windows and Windows Phone in the mobile marketplace, is apparently on shaky ground. The few times Microsoft’s patents have been formally challenged have proven disastrous for the software giant, with Motorola in particular prevailing in 16 out of 17 alleged patent infringements. So it’s possible, if not likely, that legal successes against Microsoft could cause existing licensees to rethink their contracts.
As Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents noted late last year, only a single challenged Microsoft patent, related to ActiveSync, has ever withstood scrutiny. “Microsoft’s deal-making capabilities are stronger than its claims that Android infringes many of its patents,” he wrote.
The staid Kyocera is an unexpected challenger to the status quo, but it’s likely that the firm feels its earlier patent cross-licensing agreement with Microsoft covers its smart phones as well. That is, of course, speculation. But beyond the pat sound bite provided by Mr. Howard, neither company has expanded on the claims in the case.