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Microsoft is expanding its patent disputes and IP litigation protection to manufacturers and distributors of mobile and embedded devices running Windows.

The company said it would defend more than 4,000 partner companies against intellectual property (IP) claims in countries where its Windows Embedded and Windows Mobile software are offered and will meet all partners' legal costs. Microsoft's carte blanch protection covers patents, copyright, trademark and trade secret claims.

Expanded protection comes at an interesting time for IP in mobile computing, and indicates Microsoft is eager to demonstrate its platform offers partners a "safe bet."

Research in Motion (RIM) has been locked in a protracted legal action with NTP over alleged patent infringements that has threatened to shut down its popular email service.

Microsoft has been eager to take steal RIM's business and take its market share - particularly in the enterprise, which accounts for some 90 percent of RIM's sales. RIM has 70 per cent of the wireless email market in North America, according to Gartner, but this number is expected to decline as the market expands.

Analyst firm In-Stat last month predicted Windows, with Linux, would become the dominant platforms for smartphones, taking business from both RIM and PalmSource.

Microsoft has progressively increased its level of coverage for partners since 2003, as concern has grown over software IP - a concern raised by Linux and open source - and the level of indemnification for developers and OEMs shipping devices.

"This program enables our OEM and distributor partners to select Windows Embedded and Windows Mobile with even more confidence than ever," Microsoft said in a statement.

Microsoft, of course, is no stranger to patent actions, like this. ®

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