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Microsoft, Asus deal combines Android patents, Office bundling

Commentary: Is Microsoft making Office software and services part of its patent-licensing negotiation terms? A new deal between Microsoft and Asus points in that direction.

Asus will pre-install unspecified Microsoft "productivity services" on its Android-based smartphones and tablets. Sarah Tew/CNET

I'm starting to wonder whether Microsoft has a new strategy when it comes to signing patent-licensing deals with device makers that use Linux, Android or Chrome operating systems.

On Thursday, Microsoft announced it had signed an "expanded" patent-licensing deal with Asus that covers the latter's smartphones and tablets that use the Android operating system.

As nearly two dozen vendors of products with Linux, Android and Chrome OS are doing, Asus seemingly is licensing Microsoft's patents to cover anything in those operating systems that potentially infringes on Microsoft's intellectual property.

But Asus also is agreeing, as part of the deal announced Thursday, to pre-install unspecified Microsoft "productivity services" on Android smartphones and tablets. Microsoft rep said the services include the Microsoft Office suite.

This deal sounds very much like what happened between Microsoft and Samsung earlier this year, though in Samsung's case, it was a two-step move. Samsung and Microsoft settled their patent dispute over Android patent licensing in February, with the two declining to comment in any way on the terms. Then, in May, Samsung became one of 11 Android device makers to agree to bundle Microsoft Office software and related services on their Android tablets.

Since May, Microsoft has expanded the pool of regional and international manufacturers agreeing to preload Microsoft software and services to more than 30.

I asked Microsoft what kind of patent deal it had in place with Asus originally, as I could not find reference to it. As far as I can tell, Asus didn't have an Android-related patent deal with Microsoft -- at least based on this list of the known Microsoft Android/Chrome OS/Linux deals from Foss Patents. Asus was part of a group of Android handset makers, along with Google, that were sued over patent infringement in 2013 by the Rockstar consortium, owned by Microsoft, Apple, BlackBerry, Ericcson and Sony.

A Microsoft rep said there was a pre-existing patent agreement between the two companies that was never made public but which did not involve Android.

Earlier this week, Microsoft signed its latest expanded Android patent deal with I-O Data.

On Thursday, Microsoft and Google announced a blanket settlement of 20 outstanding patent lawsuits. Neither Microsoft nor Google would comment on the terms of the deal, leaving a number of industry watchers wondering whether there might be some kind of other shoe left to drop.

Though it seems highly doubtful Google would preload Microsoft software or services on any of its devices, maybe Google will start making apps that work on Windows and Windows Phone? These days with Microsoft, I'll never say never, when it comes to potential partners and deals.

This story originally posted as "Microsoft, ASUS sign combined Android patent, Office bundling deal" on ZDNet.