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Report: Microsoft May Help Apple Lawsuit Targets

Microsoft is champing at the bit to engage Apple in a patent war and may choose to help companies like HTC that are facing the wrath of Apple's legal department, according to one Wall Street analyst.

As reported by Fortune Brainstorm Tech, Reiner, in a report issued Tuesday, suggested that Apple's patent infringement lawsuit against HTC is really a shot across Google's bow, since HTC was the first to start working with Android and has eagerly embraced the platform during its emergence as an iPhone alternative.

Apple's legal saber rattling is causing other OEMs to reconsider their Android plans, and that could end up helping Microsoft as it looks for Windows Phone 7 partners.

"Our checks indicate that Microsoft has been quick to sniff out this burgeoning opportunity and has begun to aggressively promote the strength of its own IP portfolio, as well as its willingness to join battle with customers that come under IP attack," Reiner said in the report.

In its HTC lawsuit, Apple claims ownership of the patents for certain software architectures, frameworks and implementations, including various aspects of software used to implement operating systems, all of which HTC has used in its mobile devices. Apple is seeking a permanent order from the ITC prohibiting the sale of the devices in the U.S., as well as damages.

Microsoft, of course, owns a vast patent portfolio and hasn't been shy about wielding it. The software giant often uses its shadowy collection of Linux patents to nudge competitors into patent cross licensing agreements, with last month's deal with Amazon being the latest example.

Microsoft has also found itself on the other side of patent battles. Last March, after Microsoft sued Dutch GPS device maker TomTom for patent infringement, TomTom joined the Open Invention Network, an industry coalition founded in 2005 by IBM, Red Hat, Novell, Philips and Sony that acquires and licenses open-source patents and makes them available on a royalty free basis.

If Microsoft were to come to the aid of HTC in its patent dispute with Apple, it would be playing a similar role as the Open Invention Network, although Microsoft's larger motivation would be to engage Apple in mobile device combat.

Given Microsoft's trailing mobile market position, and the fact that Windows Phone 7 devices won't arrive until late this year, this may be one way for Microsoft to slow Apple's progress.

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