Categories: Global Tech News

Apple and Microsoft’s Licensing Pact Spells Out Cloning Taboo

It’s common knowledge that when Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) briefly stepped in to save the train wreck that was Apple, Inc. (AAPL) in the mid-nineties, the pair cemented their bond with a deep cross-licensing pact which has been responsible for the relative peace between the pair in these hyper-litigious times.  During the copyright infringement trial being held at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California between Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KSC:005930) and Apple, that licensing relationship was the topic of some questions, questions that raised interesting details.

Apple patent licensing/strategy director Boris Teksler is quoted by The Verge as testifying, “The Apple and Microsoft cross-license does cover the design patents. However, we took special prohibitions from both parties so there is what I term an ‘anti-cloning’ provision… so we couldn’t copy each other’s products. There’s a clear acknowledgement that there’s no copying.”

The cross-licensing agreement covered both design (aesthetics) and utility (technology) patents worldwide.

As The Verge has a copy [PDF] of that 1997 arrangement it then highlighted the passage that Mr. Teksler was talking about:

In other words, Apple and Microsoft won’t sue each other for individual features (e.g. swipe to unlock, disappearing scrollers, or bounce animations) or minor design details (e.g. a rectangular smartphone), but if either company feels the other is “slavishly copying” the entire comprehensive product, they could — in theory, at least — sue the other.

Is this interesting?  Certainly.

How does it affect the Samsung v. Apple case?  That is unclear.  Apple clearly claims that Samsung “cloned” its products.  
 
Apple claims Samsung “slavishly copied” its products. [Source: David Paul Morris/Getty Images]
  But ultimately this testimony could be used against Apple if Samsung can establish that its smartphones/tablets are as different from the iPhone/iPad in design and user interface as Windows Phone 7 handsets and Windows tablets are from the iPhone/iPad.  Because if the level of differences is similar, and it was enough to constitute “slavishly copying”/cloning, the question would be why Apple isn’t suing Microsoft as well.

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