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Microsoft, Lexmark Ink Patent Cross-Licensing Deal

Microsoft and Lexmark have formed a patent cross-licensing agreement that covers the former's software and the latter's printers and multifunction devices, although it's unclear whether Linux patents are involved.

Microsoft and Lexmark said in statement that the deal gives each company broader access to the other's patent portfolio, although the actual terms of the agreement aren't being disclosed. Patent cross-licensing deals usually reflect companies' desire to avoid the time and expense involved with patent litigation.

Microsoft last month sued Dutch GPS device maker TomTom for allegedly infringing on eight of its patents, three of which are related to TomTom's implementation of the Linux kernel. Some industry experts interpreted Microsoft's TomTom suit as the first shot in a campaign by Microsoft to back up its long-standing claim that Linux violates dozens of its patents.

But it's unclear whether Linux patents were the motivation for Lexmark and Microsoft, although Microsoft has made similar agreements in the past with the likes of Epson, Nikon and Xerox, and has signed more than 500 licensing agreements since launching its IP licensing program in 2003.

Executives from Microsoft and Lexmark said the patent cross-licensing deal will benefit customers, a statement that shows their apparent willingness to accept the reality that such claims provide ample fodder for ridicule in today's skeptical economic climate.

David Kaefer, general manager of Intellectual Property Licensing at Microsoft, said the agreement will allow Microsoft and Lexmark to shorten development cycles and channel more resources toward product innovations that benefit customers.

"We believe that intellectual property [IP] licensing, especially during tough economic times, is an empowering way to foster collaboration and bring product differentiation to consumers," Kaefer said in a statement.

Marty Canning, Lexmark vice president and president of its Printing Solutions and Services Division, echoed Kaefer's thoughts: "We believe this agreement will improve the productivity of both our businesses and result in enhanced product offerings and increased satisfaction for all our customers."

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