Microsoft sues InterDigital over mobile patent practices

Microsoft is embroiled in a US International Trade Commission case with InterDigital, Inc., over whether Microsoft should pay licensing fees for two mobile patents, or if they don’t, if InterDigital can block the import of mobile devices using the patented technology from entering the United States.  Now, in an effort to bolster that case, Microsoft is suing InterDigital in a new case that claims that the Wilmington, Delaware based company is violating anti-trust laws by charging exhorbitant rates for the patent licences.

InterDigital describes itself as a company that “designs and develops advanced technologies that enable and enhance mobile communications and capabilities”, and says on its website that it  has over 170 engineers working on mobile technology innovations, but others have described it as a “patent troll”, as Read/Write did in 2013:

On one hand, InterDigital has a large engineering team that works to create patentable material on wireless technology. On the other hand, InterDigital does not create anything with those patents. It doesn’t build the networks, the hardware, the base stations, servers or processors. It takes its patents and attempts to license them to mobile manufacturers and when those manufacturers refuse, InterDigital sues them.

By suing in federal court, Microsoft hopes to damage the claims InterDigital is pursuing in the ITC case, and show that the company is engaged in “abusive licensing practices”, according to Reuters:

Microsoft alleged InterDigital’s “abusive licensing practices” over its patents that are essential for companies to make cellular devices violate federal anti-monopoly laws.

InterDigital “falsely promised” to license these patents on reasonable terms so they would be accepted as industry standards but then charged exorbitant rates, Microsoft said in the complaint.

A spokesman for the Redmond, Washington-based software giant said this “violates its commitments and hurts consumers and competition.”

Companies like InterDigital typically use the ITC to gain claims on their patents, and then go on to federal court to sue for damages, armed with the ITC’s decision. Microsoft is trying to not only win the ITC case, but prove that InterDigital is in fact violating anti-trust provisions by cornering the market on mobile technologies and then holding the companies that actually do create real products hostage by charging far more than “fair and reasonable terms” for the patents.

It will be interesting to see how strongly Microsoft pursues the the acts of “patent trolling”.  Microsoft itself holds a vast array of patents, and has used those patents to try and slow down Android as that “free” mobile operating system took off.

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Should Microsoft go after "patent trolls"?