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Monday, March 15, 2010, 06:40 am PT (09:40 am ET)

Microsoft exec says Apple's HTC suit 'is not necessarily a bad thing'

Even though Windows Mobile handsets are named in Apple's lawsuit against smartphone maker HTC, one Microsoft executive recently stated that the suit might help to sort out intellectual property ownership issues.

The comments from Brad Smith, general counsel and senior vice president with Microsoft, were made last week in a speech to intellectual property and copyright lawyers at the Washington State Convention Center. Brier Dudley, columnist with The Seattle Times, noted that Microsoft is not ready to formally take a side in the dispute. However, Smith said the lawsuit could help the market sort out issues of patent ownership.

"The fact that there's litigation in this area is not necessarily a bad thing," Smith reportedly said.

The Microsoft executive noted that the issue of royalties for radio technology in phones has already been sorted out, with about 5.5 percent of a phone's cost going to licensing fees mostly owned by Qualcomm. Still to be determined, though, are the other facets of smartphones that have become increasingly common since the introduction of the iPhone by Apple.

"Smith welcomed Apple's lawsuit as the opening salvo in a bigger effort to sort out who owns the technology used in smartphones and start collecting a standard set of royalties," Dudley wrote. "License holders have been talking about this behind the scenes for some time, and Apple brought it out in the open, he said."

Earlier this month, Apple sued HTC alleging infringement of 20 iPhone-related patents. Though Windows Mobile handsets were specifically named in the suit, the complaint also targeted a number of smartphones powered by Google's Android mobile operating system.

Google quickly came out in defense of HTC, with the search giant officially stating that it would "stand behind" Android and the partners who helped to develop it.

On the other hand, Microsoft's non-stance on the lawsuit, and positive words about the sorting out of intellectual property ownership, is a stark contrast. The tone is particularly interesting considering that a year ago Microsoft stated that HTC has made 80 percent of all Windows Mobile smartphones.

Smith's comments come soon after Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer shared positive words about Apple's success with the iPhone and its App Store. "Apple's done a very nice job that allows people to monetize and commercialize their intellectual property," Ballmer said in a speech at the University of Washington recently.

Microsoft has its own plans for expansion in the mobile space this year, with its own multi-touch Windows Phone 7 Series set to launch before the upcoming holiday season. The new mobile platform aims to take on both Android and the iPhone, which have significantly diminished Microsoft's market share in the mobile space.

Earlier this year, rumors began to surface that Apple could partner with Microsoft to make Bing the default search and maps provider for the iPhone, ousting Google. Those claims gained attention again recently, when The New York Times restated them in a lengthy piece detailing the bitter rivalry that has developed between Google and Apple.