People accustomed to the intense competition between Microsoft and Google would be surprised at the latest collaborative effort between the two. Google on Monday announced a beta version of Google Sync for the iPhone and Windows Mobile phones, software that synchronises Gmail Contacts and Google Calendar events across the web, computers, and mobile devices. And Microsoft didn't waste time in letting the world know that the new software was made possible by a license from Microsoft.
"Google's licensing of these Microsoft patents relating to the Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync protocol is a clear acknowledgment of the innovation taking place at Microsoft," said Horacio Gutierrez, deputy general counsel and VP of intellectual property and licensing at Microsoft, in a statement.
"This agreement is also a great example of Microsoft's openness to generally license our patents under fair and reasonable terms so long as licensees respect Microsoft intellectual property. This open approach has been part of Microsoft's IP licensing policy since 2003 and has resulted in over 500 licensing agreements of the last five years,'' he continued.
Google Sync allows users to synchronise their contacts, and in some cases calendar information, with Google's Web-based services. It works with a range of phones including Windows Mobile phones, Apple's iPhone, RIM's BlackBerry, and phones from Nokia and Sony Ericsson.
Generally, companies have licensed the ActiveSync protocol to link data between a cell phone and a Microsoft Exchange server. In this case, though, Google is using ActiveSync to link Google data off of its servers to mobile phones.
"For iPhone and Windows Mobile devices, Google Sync allows you to get your Gmail Contacts and Google Calendar events to your phone," said Google mobile engineer Bryan Mawhinney in a blog post. "Once you set up Sync on your phone, it will automatically begin synchronising your address book and calendar in the background, over-the-air, so you can attend to other tasks. Sync uses push technology so any changes or additions to your calendar or contacts are reflected on your device in minutes. The connection is always on so you don't have to manually sync your phone after Sync has been set up."
Although Google and Microsoft have cooperated in some areas in the past, the deal on Monday is the first announced example of one of those companies licensing the other's intellectual property, according to Microsoft.
This is not the first time that Microsoft has placed commercial sense over emotional nonsense. Microsoft has licensed its technical know-how to nearly every company, including rivals such as Apple, Sun Microsystems and Nokia. Other licensees include Samsung and Novell. Now, the most popular search engine company can also be added to the list.
While the new deal with Google demonstrates Microsoft's growing ability to capitalize on its patent portfolio, it also highlights pressures on the company to further open up to other tech-industry players, following a series of setbacks at the hands of antitrust regulators.
According to its settlement with the US Justice Department in 2002, Microsoft is required to document its technology in detail, and to offer related licenses to rivals on reasonable terms. In addition, the European Commission has hit the company with steep fines for failing to adequately offer rivals licenses to its technology. (See: Microsoft loses antitrust case, agrees to comply with EC ruling)