has been on a partnership tear, inking cross-licensing and interoperability agreements with Linux developers and makers of consumer electronics.
latest collaboration -- with Linux desktop-operating-system developer Linspire, announced Thursday -- is the third Linux-related deal Microsoft has cut in just the first two weeks of June.
Microsoft also announced deals with Korean device maker
to share patents, many of them for Linux, and with Linux platform developer
. Earlier in the year, Microsoft made similar deals with
LG will be allowed to use Microsoft's patents in LG Linux-based embedded devices, according to the companies.
By signing with some of the consumer electronic giants that own intellectual property, Microsoft is building an ecosystem of partners to go up against their mutual foe:
, according to Gerry Kaufhold, principal analyst at In-Stat.
Apple has "thrown fear into the consumer electronics industry," due to the speed with which it can bring highly integrated products to market, he says. All major consumer electronics companies have a strategic initiative to counter Apple's dominance, he adds.
Microsoft used to be the guy that no device maker wanted to do business with, but "Apple is now the evil empire, and Microsoft is the alternative," he says. "It's the rest of the consumer electronics industry gearing up to meet Apple."
The LG agreement was forged to enhance the links between Microsoft's Home Media Server and portable devices that can download content from the server so users can take it with them, Kaufhold says.
Many portable media devices will use Linux, he says.
For Microsoft, it furthers the company's preparation to counter Apple's iPhone, which promises to deliver voice and multimedia.
"Even though people consider Microsoft to be a proprietary platform, they make it very easy for third parties to work with them," Kaufold says. By obtaining and sharing Microsoft and Linux-related patents, third-party development becomes much easier. Without Microsoft's assistance, device makers working with Linux have to build from the ground up. But Microsoft's embedded support for Windows gives them a tool kit, reducing their time to market.
What hasn't been disclosed is whether the patent licensing agreement enables sublicensing of the intellectual property to third parties. "Many patent cross-license agreements have provisions that specify what parties can and cannot do to sublicense their patent rights to other third parties," David Kaefer, general manager of IP and licensing for Microsoft, said in an email response to questions. The company does not discuss details of such contracts because of confidentiality provisions.
LG did not respond to a request for information.
"If Microsoft has this well-developed pool of licensable IP, everybody benefits," Kaufhold says. Consumer electronics is undergoing tremendous pressure; smoothing the way for licensing and sharing of intellectual property is a big enabler.
"Third-party developers win because they can go to Microsoft and quickly create a product," he says. "All the IP
rights fall into place."
The consumer electronics industry will see the fruits of the patent agreements in about 12 months, with products intended for the 2008 holiday shopping season, Kaufhold said.
"Apple creates closed gardens," says tech consultant Jon Peddie. "Everything is Apple-derived," whereas Microsoft publicly favored open systems. The downside is that open standards get customized in the hands of individual companies, he added.
Peddie questions whether the Microsoft-LG agreement actually enables sublicensing of patents. Such agreements usually don't allow transference of the patent rights to other parties, he says.
But Peddie notes that high-level interoperability seems to be an overriding concern for the software giant. "When Xbox Live was announced, they spoke about creating the opportunity for people with mobile devices to engage friends in games, subject to the capabilities of the platform they were on," he says.
A legal ecosystem in which software and device makers can turn on a dime is needed to make such device-aware, cross-platform systems a reality. Microsoft seems to be growing just such a habitat.