Microsoft and Dell have signed a patent cross-licensing agreement, where Dell pays Microsoft royalties on products based on Chrome OS and Android in return for patent protection.
In return, Dell will license back certain undisclosed intellectual property that would affect the Xbox game console, according to a Microsoft representative.
Microsoft has signed a number of patent cross licenses with companies of all stripes, covering patents that the company has asserted as part of the Android operating system. In 2011, for example, Microsoft signed a similar deal with Samsung, plus Acer, Foxconn, Onkyo, Velocity Micro, ViewSonic and Wistron, among others.
Representatives from both Microsoft and Dell publicly and privately downplayed the deal, calling it the natural offshoot of a long, 30-year business relationship.
"Our agreement with Dell shows what can be accomplished when companies share intellectual property," said Horacio Gutierrez, corporate vice president and deputy general counsel of the Innovation and Intellectual Property Group at Microsoft, in a statement. "We have been partnering with technology manufacturers and vendors for many years to craft licensing deals, instead of litigation strategies."
What the agreement does signify, however, is that as PC makers begin moving away from their traditional reliance on Microsoft, Microsoft will begin enforcing its patent rights. In 2011, Dell seemingly abandoned the Dell Streak tablet, signifying an apparent end to its Android experiment. But then Dell aggressively pushed back into the space late last year with its new Venue tablet lineup. Dell also announced a Chromebook, which runs Google's ChromeOS operating system.
Google, which pioneered both Android and Chrome, has yet to indemnify, or legally protect, companies which use either Chrome or Android. In 2011, Microsoft challenged Google to do just that, but Google failed to respond. Google representatives did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Although Dell will now pay a royalty to Microsoft for the use of Android and Chrome OS, the real message is that other OEMs who choose to follow in Dell's footsteps risk the same treatment. That might not include HP, which signed a broad cross-licensing agreement with Microsoft in 2009.