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Microsoft, Autodesk sign patent pact

Companies will gain access to each other's patents in areas such as data management, digital effects and digital rights management.

As part of its plan to access a broader portfolio of intellectual property, Microsoft has signed a patent swap deal with design software maker Autodesk.

Under the pact, the two companies will get access to each other's patents in a variety of areas, including data management, collaboration, digital effects, digital rights management, project management, computer-aided design and location-based services.

Microsoft has been stepping up its activity on the patent front, ramping up its own filings and at the same time trying to ink cross-license deals with other tech companies. Microsoft has been using the combined power as a marketing vehicle against Linux and noting that it indemnifies its customers against potential patent infringement claims.

"This is part of a pretty broad effort we've got going on," said David Kaefer, Microsoft's director of intellectual property licensing. Microsoft has signed similar deals with Cisco Systems, SAP and Siemens and has hopes of inking as many as 30 such pacts in the next five years. Microsoft is currently in talks with about a dozen companies on potential patent-swapping alliances, Kaefer said.

The stepped-up intellectual property effort began a year ago this month, when Microsoft moved to simplify the process of licensing its technology.

Microsoft and Autodesk had been negotiating the deal for about six months. That makes the agreements among the quicker ones to be ironed out, Kaefer said, noting that it sometimes takes as long as two years to reach a deal.

Kaefer noted that the two companies were already close partners and talking regularly and that Microsoft's top lawyer, Brad Smith, is close friends with Autodesk general counsel Marcia Sterling.

Neither company would discuss financial details of the cross-licensing arrangement, including whether any money changed hands. Kaefer has said that Microsoft spent about $1.4 billion last year on patent licensing but added the company has an opportunity to narrow those losses by more aggressively licensing its own portfolio.

Autodesk CTO Scott Borduin said the arrangement with Microsoft is the first major cross-licensing deal Autodesk has done. Such deals are an improvement for the industry, he said, which often uses patents to stifle innovation.

"This represents a positive step in terms of software companies getting together and cooperating on these things rather than using patents to try and slow each other down," he said.

Earlier this week, Sony and Samsung signed a cross-license deal of their own.

"That deal is interesting," Kaefer said, noting that it covered most, but not all, of the two rivals' patent portfolios.