Microsoft and HTC have a long history, since HTC has manufactured quite a number of Windows Mobile phones. HTC's focus has shifted, at the moment, towards building successful Android-based mobile phones, and it seems Microsoft wants a piece of that pie. Sadly, the patents in question were not disclosed.
As anyone who knows even the littlest bit about the company histories of Apple and Microsoft can attest to, this totally makes sense. There is no doubt that both Apple as well as Microsoft have a number of valuable mobile-related patents, but where Apple believes everyone else is stealing from them, Microsoft simply sees an opportunity to make money.
"HTC and Microsoft have a long history of technical and commercial collaboration, and today's agreement is an example of how industry leaders can reach commercial arrangements that address intellectual property," said Horacio Gutierrez, corporate vice president and deputy general counsel Microsoft's licensing division.
The Wall Street Journal believes this deal provides HTC with patents to use in its battle with Apple. "The agreement provides HTC with much needed patents in its looming patent-infringement lawsuit with Apple, which claims that HTC is illegally using smartphone features such as a multitouch user control and a swipe-to-unlock screen," the WSJ writes, "The agreement also makes Microsoft an unlikely ally of Google. While HTC and Microsoft have long been partners, the embrace of Android by several handset maker has come at the expense of Microsoft's own Windows Mobile software. Now Microsoft could be HTC - and Google's - potential savior."
While I prefer patent agreements over patent lawsuits, it's sad we can't take a look at the actual patents involved here to assess their validity. However, considering the US patent system, these Microsoft patents probably won't be any better than the mostly software-related patents Apple is using to sue HTC. Worse yet, this opens the door for Microsoft to strong-arm other Android phone makers into similar deals - potentially scaring OEMs away from using Android.
Of course, it could all be part of a coordinated effort by Google, HTC, and Microsoft to take on Apple. Both Google and Microsoft have shown time and time again to be quite pragmatic when it comes to who and what to support, so it really wouldn't surprise me.