Microsoft has announced this week a new patent licensing agreement with Casio, the Japan-based manufacturer of consumer electronics and business equipment solutions. Casio is probably well-known for its calculators, digital cameras and digital watches, but Microsoft said in the announcement that the new licensing partnership "includes broad coverage for smartwatch technologies," which sounds quite surprising.
As you may recall, Microsoft used to be interested in the wearable market and released two Microsoft Band models in recent years, but the company never introduced a proper smartwatch to compete with the Apple Watch or Android Wear models. However, Casio did launch a new portfolio of outdoor smartwatches running Android Wear recently, which are mentioned in the press release.
The announcement doesn't specifically say what patents will be licensed, but it doesn't mean that Casio will stop using Android Wear in the future. In fact, the licensing partnership looks quite similar to other patent licensing agreements Microsoft already has with several Android phone manufacturers. Here is what Micky Minhas, head of Microsoft Technology Licensing LLC said about the announcement:
“Casio’s smartwatches combined with Microsoft’s technology will help customers all over the world achieve more from their wearables. This is an outstanding partnership that builds on Microsoft’s heritage of innovation in the technology powering personal wearables to boost Casio’s best-in-class products in this space.”
It remains to be seen if Microsoft could conclude similar patent licensing agreements with other companies using Android Wear for their smartwatches. However, it's also possible that Casio's Smart Outdoor Watches do leverage some special technology that other Android Wear smartwatches don't. According to Microsoft, Casio’s smartwatches "enable modern personal connectivity, while also coming equipped with many sensors that support a complement of outdoor features such as activity monitoring, and altimeter, barometer and compass readings."
In the end, Microsoft may have neglected the wearable market in recent years but this new licensing agreement shows that the company can still make money from wearables. Probably not much, considering that smartwatches are still a niche product compared to our beloved smartphones.