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Google forms group of major players to reduce patent disputes

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TopRank Marketing / Flickr
When it comes to patent infighting, Google’s laying down the law. In a blog post yesterday, the search giant announced PAX , a patent licensing group founded to “[promote] innovation and healthy competition.” Its members will agree to the terms of an “Android Networked Cross-License Agreement.”

PAX, which Google describes as a “patent clearing house,” counts Google, Samsung, LG, Apple manufacturing partner Foxconn, Nokia device maker HMD Global, HTC, Chinese smartphone company Coolpad, BQ, and Allview among its founding members. It will grant royalty-free patent licenses that cover Android and Google Applications on “qualified devices” — namely, smartphones and tablets that ship with Google’s proprietary Android services.

Google says that this will shore up the Android ecosystem’s more than 400 partner manufacturers and 500 carriers against intellectual property disputes. “[This] ensures that innovation and consumer choice — not patent threats — will continue to be key drivers of our Android ecosystem. PAX is free to join and open to anyone,” Google said in a blog post.

According to Google, PAX’s members own more than 230,000 patents worldwide.

PAX, on its face, is principally aimed at heading off legal spats over Android’s core features.

In 2011, Oracle accused Google of infringing on intellectual Java programming language property the former acquired from Sun Microsystems in early 2010. And in 2012, Apple sued Samsung for violating software design patents including Android’s pinch-to-zoom gesture, the slide-to-unlock motion used to unlock Android’s lockscreen, the kinetic rubber-banding effect at the bottom of settings menus, and universal search.

It’s also meant to combat the pricey licensing arrangements sought by companies which claim Android violates their intellectual property.

Microsoft is reported to be earning $2 billion a year from licensing email, calendar, contacts, and signal strength patents to Android handset manufacturers like Samsung, Acer, ViewSonic, Quanta, Onkyo, and HTC.

And in 2011, Rockstart, a patent holding company jointly owned by Apple, Microsoft, Sony, and Ericsson, launched lawsuits against Google and Android partners like HTC, Huawei, Asus, LG, Samsung, ZTE, and Pantech.

In a report commissioned by lawyers from Apple’s law firm and an executive from Intel, analysts estimated that about $120 of the $400 cost of a representative smartphone is spent on patent licensing — about 30 percent.

In 2012, Google went so far as to acquire smartphone maker Motorola — and its collection of 170,000 patents — in order to “protect” Android software and devices.

PAX represents a more open — and permanent — solution

“In Latin, the word ‘pax’ means ‘peace,'” Google said. “We encourage […] companies large and small around the world to join us in PAX and enjoy patent peace.”

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