Apple Patent Cross-Licensing Has Limits with Microsoft & Samsung

The Untouchable User Interface PatentsApple has patent cross-licensing deals in place with Microsoft, and the company offered Samsung a cross-licensing deal, but in both cases, there are limits. Court testimony from the company’s high profile patent battle with Samsung show that even when cross-licensing, protecting the company’s user interface was a top priority for Apple.

According to AllThingsD, Apple revealed in court that it has a cross-licensing agreement in place with erstwhile mortal enemy Microsoft. That agreement specifically covers the same design patents that Apple is contesting with Samsung, but Apple has in place an “anti-cloning” provision.

That provision stipulates that the companies, “can’t copy each other’s products,” according to Boris Teksler, Apple’s Director, Patent Licensing & Strategy.

CNet reported that Mr. Teksler also said, “All these patents are in Apple’s unique user experience, and not ones we would license. There’s peace to each other’s products; there’s a clear acknowledgement that there’s no cloning.”

The testimony did not indicate how long that agreement has been in place, but we’ll note that the 1998 investment agreement between Microsoft and Apple included a cross-licensing component. The agreement referenced in the testimony could be that agreement, a later extension of that agreement, or simply a new agreement built on the past by the two companies.

As reported earlier on Monday, Apple did offer a cross-licensing deal to Samsung in 2010 after Apple saw Samsung’s original Galaxy Tab tablet. Apple wanted US$30 to $40 per device from Samsung to license its patents, but even that didn’t include key user interface patents that Apple considered “untouchable.”

It would appear that Apple was willing to accept products that could infringe on its design patents so long as Samsung didn’t also infringe on the user interface innovations Apple felt were its key inventions.

“We were trying very hard to come up with an amicable resolution with Samsung,” Mr. Teksler said. “We wanted them to respect and protect our unique user experience.”

Testimony continues this week, and could wrap up as soon as next week.

Thanks to Shutterstock for help with the image in this article.