Google's strategy of making Android available to developers for free has paid off extremely well. The operating system quickly mounted serious competition for Mac OS and Windows and emerged as the world's best-selling smartphone platform by the end of 2010. Naturally, that made Microsoft, still reeling from the end of Windows Mobile, and Apple, unhappy with anything less than Blofeld style world domination, feel somewhat uneasy. Both companies have long claimed that Android 'incorporates' significant aspects from their operating systems and have demanded that Google either pay them or change Android to remove the contested elements. The legality of those claims is still undecided and so far no litigation has resulted, but in a move that the Wall Street Journal notes may move that kind of activity forward, Samsung and Microsoft have reached a huge patent sharing deal.
Samsung will now pay royalties to Microsoft on its Android-based smartphones and tablets, and the two global supercompanies will collaborate to develop new phones and tablets based on Windows rather than Android. Window's stake in the deal is obvious, as it gives them official acknowledgment from the world's second largest smartphone maker that their claim against Android may have merit. It also provides leverage to pressure other cellphone makers to cut similar deals. But Samsung's reasons for pursuing the deal may have to do with more than simply protecting themselves from Microsoft's lawyers. The South Korean company is in the midst of a very bitter worldwide legal battle with Apple involving charges of patent and trademark infringement. Partnering with Apple's chief rival may provide them with an easy out, should they lose that battle and find their current slate of tabs and phones kiboshed.
As of this writing, Google has not made any official comment, but one imagines there are some very loud swear words being exchanged at the top of the company. In a month that has seen them taken to task for alleged anti-trust violations, this is one more headache they don't need.