HTC's surprise patent agreement with Microsoft, announced yesterday, may be a ploy for the Taiwanese manufacturer to counter a patent infringement lawsuit brought against it by Apple, according to a prominent Gartner analyst.
Gartner research vice president Brian Prentice told iTnews he suspects HTC may have signed a patent agreement with Microsoft to bolster its chances in a lawsuit levelled against it by Apple.
The Microsoft patent agreement may be used by HTC, he suggested, to question how Apple received its patents in the first instance, arguing that Microsoft should own prior rights.
"The HTC / Microsoft relationship could help behind the scenes," Prentice said.
How much the patent deal could help HTC's case against Apple depends on the patents in question, he said, which are yet to be revealed.
The patent deal also raises the possibility for other manufacturers to strike up similar agreements with Microsoft to protect their Android phones from Apple's aggression.
"This will be dealt with on a handset manufacturer by handset manufacturer basis," Prentice said. "Where it becomes complicated is when manufacturers have their own set of patents. Motorola [for example] may have patents to cover the same things HTC has patented with Microsoft."
Implications for Google
Microsoft's patent deal with HTC may also have implications for Google, as the online giant will need to take manufacturer patent concerns into account in future development of its open source Android mobile operating system.
As Google's Android platform is open source, Prentice said that both Microsoft and Apple are turning their attentions to handset manufacturers that provide the final product for sale.
"If the handset manufacturer has to deal with [patent] infringement notices, there are challenges Google has to confront for future Android projects," Prentice said.
"Will new features be OK to distribute? Or will (manufacturers) worry about another patent suit?"