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Sony, Samsung agree to share toys

Patent cross-licence deal cover all but cutting-edge techs

Sony and Samsung have entered into a far-reaching technology licensing agreement that opens stacks of each company's intellectual properties to the other.

However, the deal doesn't preclude the outbreak of legal fights between the two companies in future since key "differentiation technologies", such as Sony's PlayStation system, are not included in the deal.

That said, the agreement does clear away the potential for an awful lot of lawsuits between the Japanese and South Korean giants. Companies from both nations are keen litigators, as witnessed by the numerous technology rights infringement allegations they chuck at each other. Samsung itself recently settled a legal battle with Fujitsu, while LG Electronics and Matsushita are currently accusing each other of ripping off their plasma display panel patents.

Interestingly, the Sony-Samsung cross-licence does not take in a number of display technologies, including TFT LCD and OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) systems. Ditto Sony's Digital Reality Creation image enhancement engine for hi-definition TVs, and Samsung's Digital Natural Image Engine, also a digital TV video processing system.

Samsung's Home Networking technology is likewise off-limits to Sony's engineers.

But they, and their counterparts at Samsung, have open season on pretty much everything else. The two companies describe what is being shared as "the basic technologies necessary for product development" - the small-scale stuff on which the cutting-edge technologies are built. In fact, these "basic" patents are generally what cause one company to fall foul of another, precisely because they are often sufficiently basic to have become almost generic. By cross-licensing such technologies to each other, Sony and Samsung have granted each other considerable freedom of manoeuvre.

That said, it still leaves them open to the risk of treading on other firms' IP toes. Perhaps their agreement will form the template for similar far-reaching deals with other patent holders.

Negotiators from Sony and Samsung have been working to thrash out the licensing deal for the last 12 months. ®

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