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Microsoft pays licence fees for 74 smartphone patents

When will the madness end?

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Microsoft licensed 74 patents yesterday with Acacia Research Corp for an undisclosed sum.

The Wall Street Journal reported the move, and Acacia also put a terse statement out confirming the licence agreement.

It said the software giant paid licence fees for “a portfolio of patents related to smartphones owned by ACCESS Co, Ltd”.

Acess trades publicly on the Tokyo stock exchange, has 2,000 employees, and to date has shipped one billion mobile phone browsers. According to a anonymous source at Access, the company "retains many of the employees who have filed the patents licensed to MS."

Acacia said the patents cover inventions created by Access, Palm, Palmsource, Bell Communications Research, and Geoworks.

The outfit has a reputation for scooping up firms with patents and then going after other companies with claims of IP infringement.

So perhaps, somewhat uncharacteristically, Microsoft was simply heading off any such headache by signing a licence deal with Acacia.

Interestingly Acacia, as previously noted by Groklaw, does have a history of hiring Microsoft veterans to work at its offices. It appointed ex-Microsoft Intellectual Property general manager Brad Brunell in 2007.

In July of that year the firm also took on Jonathan Taub, who Acacia promoted to the job of senior vice president just this month.

As Acacia points out in his corporate bio: “Prior to joining Acacia, he was Director of Strategic Alliances for Microsoft's Mobile and Embedded Devices division and Business Development Manager for Microsoft's Security Business Unit.”

So it’s hardly surprising to see the two companies play nice over licensing. It also means Microsoft, for once, won’t be under the patent sueball spotlight.

According to the WSJ, the patents Redmond coughed up for yesterday are listed in a lawsuit that Acacia recently filed against Apple, RIM, Samsung Electronics, Motorola and other smartphone vendors.

IPWatchdog.com, as pointed out by Mary Jo Foley, considers Acacia to be “the mother of all patent trolls”. It noted a recent Business Week story that said the firm had filed 337 patent-related lawsuits in that past 18 years.

On the Microsoft front, this isn’t the first time it has paid Acacia licence fees for its patents.

But more often than not, Microsoft battles patent lawsuits via the US courts. Late last month MS assembled an unlikely band of tech brothers against patent trolls, in a move to upend a patent infringement verdict that ordered the software giant to pay $290m in damages to i4i.

Just a day later, Microsoft sued Motorola for patent infringement. ®

Correction

This article wrongly stated that Access Co Ltd was a subsidiary of Acacia. The story has now been amended.

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