All major Android backers are now paying royalties to Microsoft for using Android in smartphones, even the likes of Samsung and HTC. Goldman Sachs estimated the Windows maker could rake in a whopping $444 million this year alone from Android patent pacts, easily exceeding Windows Phone licensing revenues. Now that the $199 Kindle Fire tablet has come into full view, the question arises whether Amazon, too, will run to Microsoft’s arms seeking Android patent protection.
The two companies last year had cut a cross-licensing agreement. However, the Seattle Times notes that the 2010 deal covers the existing Kindle e-readers but not Android, which powers the Kindle Fire tablet. TechCrunch’s MG Seigler, who saw early prototypes of the Fire tablet, described a forked Android version which is at the core of the Kindle Fire experience:
Google’s Android Market is nowhere to be found. In fact, no Google app is anywhere to be found. This is Android fully forked. My understanding is that the Kindle OS was built on top of some version of Android prior to 2.2.
Some folks think the possibility of a forced Android patent pact between Amazon and Microsoft covering the Kindle Fire tablet could be dependent on how much tweaking Amazon has done in order to adapt Android to its device.
Patent expert Florian Mueller begs to differ. Mueller responded on Twitter when asked to comment on the situation:
I believe no one can [avoid paying royalties to Microsoft]. They have too many [patents] in the critical areas. I guess they own hundreds Android infringes.
Even the heavy tweaking may not shield Amazon because many Android-related patents that Microsoft holds extensively cover the core operating system, which is largely uniform across different devices.