Samsung just threw in the towel in the smartphone patent wars, admitting defeat and signing a cross-licensing agreement with Microsoft. Boy, is Google in trouble. And those Motorola patents? They must be useless.
Needless to say, this knee-jerk reaction to today's Microsoft-Samsung agreement is totally off-base. The key misunderstanding springs from the assumption that all the patent litigators lined up against Android have the same agenda. Certainly they do not.
Microsoft is pushing its own smartphone software platform and needs hardware partners like Samsung to get on board. Apple, by contrast, doesn't need anyone.
Microsoft has pushed for very modest licensing fees and, in return, gotten commitments for more Windows phone models, as Todd Bishop points out over on Geekwire. HTC and a half dozen very minor Android phone makers already similar struck deals. Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith is handing out olive branches in his blog post (although how in the world this deal shows how "IP drives innovation," I don't get):
We recognize that some businesses and commentators – Google chief among them – have complained about the potential impact of patents on Android and software innovation. To them, we say this: look at today’s announcement. If industry leaders such as Samsung and HTC can enter into these agreements, doesn’t this provide a clear path forward?
Apple, meanwhile, is pursuing a scorched earth policy, seeking to have competitors' products banned from markets across the globe. It hasn't licensed anything to anyone.
If you are a major hardware maker like Samsung, it seems obvious how to deal with these attackers. Make peace with Microsoft and make war with Apple. And that's exactly what Samsung has done. The decision not to fight Microsoft in court likely has nothing to do with the strength of Motorola's patents, which Google is acquiring to shield Android. They will be tested against Apple.
The most interesting question left on the table is whether Motorola, once owned by Google, settles with Microsoft. The fight or settle question may look very different to Google, which obviously isn't a hardware maker and is unlikely to be very excited to have Motorola promoting Windows mobile on its phones. On the other hand, Google has said Motorola will be run an independent division, so maybe peace is coming.