The noise you just heard was the sound of a group of Apple executives – and the lawyers they've hired – hitting their heads into a desk. To phrase it another way, the enemy of my not-really-enemy-but-it-can-be-tense-sometimes friend is also my... enemy?
However you want to slice it, Google and Samsung have announced that they have signed off on a cross-licensing deal that should cover the companies' existing patents as well as patents produced by either across the next decade.
As for what, specifically, that entails — surely a few categories are off-limits, right? — we don't quite know, for neither company has been keen to address any details beyond that simple announcement. That includes whatever price tags are attached to the arrangement as well.
According to a Samsung press release, the move will allow both companies to tap into "each other's industry-leading patent portfolios" for future research and development of both hardware and the technologies that go into them.
"We're pleased to enter into a cross-license with our partner Samsung," said Allen Lo, deputy general counsel for patents at Google, in a statement "By working together on agreements like this, companies can reduce the potential for litigation and focus instead on innovation."
The move is expected to give both companies a bit more legal ammunition in the unsightly world of patent lawsuits. For Samsung, that mainly concerns the company's current sparring with Apple in a variety of courts across a variety of countries — including a second round of litigation in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California scheduled to start 31 March of this year.
While it's unclear just how, if at all, Samsung might benefit from the new licensing, the move comes in advance of both companies' CEOs anticipated mid-February mediation meeting. It's hoped (though quite unlikely) that both parties will find a way to settle their differences in advance of the scheduled courtroom visit the following month.
If all this patent nonsense sounds a bit like two warring sides bolstering their armies, you'd be correct. Samsung currently enjoys similar licensing deals with Microsoft and Nokia, and it's likely that Google will go after similar licensing arrangements with other Android handset manufacturers. Apple, on the other hand, has worked out a licensing arrangement with HTC and Microsoft as well, in addition to a licensing arrangement earlier this year that allows the company to tap into older Palm patents.
"This agreement with Google is highly significant for the technology industry," said Dr. Seungho Ahn, of Samsung's Intellectual Property Center, in a statement. "Samsung and Google are showing the rest of the industry that there is more to gain from cooperating than engaging in unnecessary patent disputes."
Patent disputes that, in California at least, Samsung seems to be losing.