More than 50% of companies that make smartphones based on Google’s Android operating systems pay license fees to Microsoft in order to do so.
Microsoft revealed the statistic after it signed a new agreement with Taiwanese phone maker Compal. Following the deal, 53% of original design manufacturers (which make devices for other brands) and 55% of original equipment manufacturers (which make devices for their own brands) have license agreements with the company.
The license fees relate to the portfolio of smartphone-related patents that Microsoft has accumulated in recent years, though both acquisition and R&D.
Google, which unlike Microsoft does not make any money from device makers using its operating system, has in the past accused the software giant of "resorting to legal measures to extort profit from others’ achievements and hinder the pace of innovation".
However, Microsoft insists that its patent licensing programme "ensure[s] respect and reasonable compensation for Microsoft’s inventions and patent portfolio" while allowing "licensees to make use of our patented innovations on a long-term and stable basis".
Many thousands of mobile-related patents have changed hand in recent times. A consortium of companies including Apple and Microsoft acquired a bundle of over 6,000 patents from defunct Canadian network equipment maker Nortel for $4.5 billion in July 2011, trumping Google’s bid five times over.
Google’s $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility in August 2011 is believed to have been motivated in part by its 17,000-strong patent arsenal. That would suggest that Google thinks that Microsoft’s patent strategy could be a threat to the viability of Android.