Saturday, October 4, 2014

Samsung paid Microsoft over $1 billion in Android patent royalties in 12-month period: court filing

When Microsoft filed its contract lawsuit against Samsung over Android patent royalties more than two months ago, I predicted that it "[wouldn't] be able to get everything sealed." And yesterday two key pieces of information about the Microsoft-Samsung patent license agreement came to light as Microsoft filed its amended complaint in public (you can find the document at the end of this post):

  • The 2011 deal covers seven fiscal years (July 1 - June 30). The last fiscal year it covers will end on June 30, 2018.

  • "For Fiscal Year 2 of the License Agreement [July 1, 2012 - June 30, 2013], Samsung reported to Microsoft [...] that Samsung owed over $1 billion in royalties under the Agreement. Microsoft agreed[.]"

    Paragraph 45 of the complaint states the precise number: $1,041,642,161.25 (and interest of $6,991,844.64 that Microsoft claims to be entitled to but Samsung hasn't paid)

So far, Samsung has not yet responded to Microsoft's position on what bearing Microsoft's acquisition of Nokia's mobile devices business has on this contract. Microsoft recalls, as no one would deny, that "[b]oth Microsoft and Samsung, which are highly sophisticated businesses, were represented by skilled counsel throughout the process of negotiating, draft, and executing the License Agreement." And these parties, according to the complaint, agreed to the following clause:

3.2 New Subsidiary License. If a Subsidiary or business unit/division is acquired by a Party after the Effective Date, the Subsidiary or business unit/division shall be deemed a Grantee under Section 3.1 and the License granted under Section 3.1 shall extend to such Subsidiary of business unit/division, but effective only as of the of the acquisition.

Microsoft concedes, however, that "[t]he License Agreement als contains an anti-assignment provision in Section 7.7 [...]," but says "the Nokia Acquisition is precisely the kind of transaction that is explicitly permitted." The dispute also appears to (at least potentially) involve a parallel Collaboration Agreement relating to Samsung's Windows-based devices.

I have a very conservative pacta sunt servanda approach, so I would never downplay the importance of what's at stake in that regard. However, rather than get bogged down in all sorts of contract law details, let's focus on the overarching strategic issues.

There's a non-party to this deal that is still at the center of the dispute: Google. About ten years ago, then-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer allegedly (according to a court filing) said this:

" Eric Schmidt is a p...y. I'm going to bury that guy, I have done it before, and I will do it again. I'm going to kill Google."

As of today, they're both doing well, and if anyone was now going to "bury" the other, Google would be far more likely to do it to Microsoft than the other way round ("far more likely" is an understatement). From a consumer point of view I regret that Google is still superdominant in the search engine business, but I have only myself to blame because every time I install a Windows computer, the first thing I do after the installation process is to set Google as my standard search engine for all browsers, even though I've never been disappointed with the results that Bing delivered on the few occasions on which I used it. (At least I know Google invests more money in very ambitious research projects that can make the world a better place than its rivals, probably more than all of its rivals combined.) Anyway, Google's core business is safe. Meanwhile, Google is actually becoming the new Microsoft in terms of the dominant operating system maker of the future -- just look at this chart:

Infographic: Is Android Becoming the New Windows? | Statista

(You can find more such statistics at Statista)

Google is making fast market share gains at Microsoft's expense, in a field of technology in which Microsoft filed tens of thousands of patents over the last 20 years (becauses it invested tens of billions of dollars in operating system R&D). I would have thought that Microsoft owned a patent thicket that would constitute a lethal entrance barrier even if a new entrant managed to get traction among app developers. I was wrong. I've admitted it before, especially in my October 1 blog post, in which I showed that only about 9% of 222 smartphone patent assertions (by Apple, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia and Samsung combined, in the U.S., Germany, and the UK) had merit based on final or interim results:

Microsoft has, to put it diplomatically, not outperformed the others so far:

To be fair, Microsoft would also have a 9% "hit rate" in the above chart if a patent with respect to which the Federal Circuit reversed the final ITC ruling had not expired and if, despite some remaining issues on remand, Microsoft had prevailed. But if we look at it in terms of Microsoft patents that are presently (after four years of litigation) enforceable against Android devices, there's only one, and it covers the scheduling of meetings from a mobile device. I always try hard to apply the same standard to all companies (regardless of past or ongoing business relationships), and just like I wrote in the spring that the only feature of which Apple proved ownership in its first 49 months of Android litigation was rubberbanding, it's also a fact that Microsoft's Android patent enforcement is now in its 49th month and the aforementioned scheduling feature is the only one of which Microsoft has proved ownership in court so far. I repeat, so far: it remains to be seen what happens in the years ahead should Microsoft and Motorola not settle before some appeals are resolved and some infringement assertions are finally taken to trial in the Western District of Washington.

The impact of Apple and Microsoft's IP enforcement efforts was and is obviously not limited to the patents they successfully enforce in court. The fact that they do enforce from time to time (though they both haven't filed any new claims against Android devices in years) presumably does have an effect on other companies' decisions. It is very likely that certain features on which Apple and Microsoft hold patents were never incorporated into Android for fear of enforcement. But is Android lacking something today that I as a consumer would miss? No.

In my previous post I also showed the difference between Apple's exclusionary approach on the one hand and Microsoft's licensing focus on the other hand. Microsoft has announced a total of 27 Android/Chrome-related license deals and brought infringement lawsuits against only two device makers, while Apple has started three disputes and extended a license to only one Android device maker (HTC). The following chart shows the difference (click on the image to enlarge):

Unless Microsoft turns its litigation against Motorola around, one can't help but conclude that Microsoft's dealmaking capabilities are stronger than its claims that Android infringes many of its patents. Assuming for the sake of the argument that Microsoft is right and Samsung wants to get out of the existing license agreement, this certainly wouldn't be the case if Microsoft had proven against Motorola (and Barnes & Noble, though not much happened there before a strategic partnership also put the patent dispute to rest) that Android does indeed infringe on valid Microsoft patent claims to a huge extent. (By "huge extent" I obviously mean more than a meeting scheduler feature that I never used, at least not on any mobile device.)

License agreements and FRAND licensing commitments are, besides smart litigation tactics, also the reason for which Motorola hasn't been able to enforce any patent against Microsoft for even one second. It was a contract lawsuit in the Western District of Washington in which a temporary-restraining-order-turned-preliminary-injunction came down and prevented Motorola from enforcing two German H.264 (video codec) injunctions against Microsoft. I guess part of the reason for which Microsoft brought the present contract case against Samsung was so it could seek an "anti-suit injunction" again if Samsung started to enforce any of its patents against the former Nokia devices. Also, it was a contract-based defense (related to ActiveSync) that got Motorola's German synchronization patent case stayed (though Motorola was able to enforce the same patent against the email service of Apple's iCloud for 19 months).

Between Microsoft and Samsung, the amount of money that is at stake (I had no idea before how much it was, though I figured it wasn't chump change) makes a settlement very difficult on the one hand and a very logical outcome on the other hand. If Microsoft prevails on a pacta sunt servanda basis, Samsung will owe it many billions over the years, though this would certainly not contribute to Samsung's enthusiasm as a Windows device maker (think of the operating system market share chart). If, however, the license agreement does not apply anymore, Samsung may decide to simply fend off any Microsoft patent assertions against Android in court and pay Microsoft as much in Android patent royalties going forward as Motorola has paid over the last four years: nothing. (Or it would assert wireless patents against Microsoft's acquired Nokia devices and offset a large part of the royalty revenue stream.) The extreme outcomes are unlikely. A renegotiated license agreement is my best guess.

Finally, here's the amended complaint:

14-10-03 Amended Microsoft v. Samsung complaint.pdf by Florian Mueller

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