Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

Is Microsoft Going to Go After the Chinese Government?

Steve Ballmer wants everyone who ships devices running Android to pay Microsoft a licensing fee. Soon that could include companies with close ties to the Chinese government.

  • October 21, 2010

In reference to a patent suit launched against Motorola, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer recently told The Wall Street Journal that Android, the open-source mobile operating system developed by Google, isn’t free.

“Android has a patent fee,” Ballmer said. “It’s not like Android’s free. You do have to license patents. HTC’s signed a license with us and you’re going to see license fees clearly for Android as well as for Windows.”

What Ballmer means is that Microsoft believes that Android violates a suite of 9 patents held by Microsoft, and that anyone shipping devices running Android must therefore pay Microsoft for the privilege of using its intellectual property.

For this strategy to work, Microsoft has to go after every vendor of any scale shipping devices running Android - otherwise, its policy of deterrence, obviously designed to encourage firms to license from Microsoft first, rather than risk litigation, won’t work.

But what if Ballmer didn’t count on one of the biggest potential users of the Android OS being the government of a sovereign nation, one that possesses a market so vast, and growing at such an explosive pace, that Microsoft desperately wants a piece of it?

“The uptake of android in China was phenomenal, they were way ahead of everyone else,” says Art Swift, vice president of marketing at MIPS Technologies, a company with close ties to China’s Institute of Computing Technology, which is an architecture licensee of the MIPS instruction set for microprocessors.

MIPS has yet to make an announcement on the subject, but Swift said that the first ever MIPS-powered phone will come out in the Chinese market in the near future, and that it will be running Android.

If, as seems likely, the device is running on a Loongson processor, the ICT-designed CPU that uses the MIPS instruction set, Microsoft will have to attempt to collect licensing fees from what is likely to be a commercial partner of the ICT, such as Loongson Technologies or some domestic handset manufacturer. It’s not quite the Chinese government, but in a country where all the most powerful companies are owned and run by the state, and domestic firms necessarily have ties to the government, it’s close enough.

When I asked Swift if Microsoft would pursue the Chinese government, he laughed. “Good luck to them – that’s just my opinion,” he said.

Follow Mims on Twitter or contact him via email.

Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.

Subscribe today
Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.