In a series of press releases over the past week, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) has touted patent agreements with a variety of small bodies in the Android universe. The contract partners range from privately held PC and tablet designer Velocity Micro to Japanese audio expert Onkyo and a division of defense contractor General Dynamics (NYSE: GD ) .
The announcements were made with hard-to-hide glee: "We are pleased to have reached this agreement with General Dynamics Itronix, which is an example of how industry leaders address intellectual property," says deputy general counsel Horacio Gutierrez in one of them, for example.
Microsoft is also part of the consortium that won the auction for a bundle of Nortel technology patents, alongside such unlikely allies as Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) , Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) , and EMC (NYSE: EMC ) . Taken together, the rash of license agreements and the heavier patent arsenal in the wireless arena form a potent platform from which Microsoft can launch a licensing campaign among larger Android partners, from Motorola Mobility (NYSE: MMI ) to Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) itself.
The Android software doesn't come with licensing fees to Google or anyone else, but Microsoft might be able to collect royalties directly from handset and tablet makers instead and then trumpet that Android really isn't all that free. Although unlikely to boost business for Microsoft's Windows Phone platform, at least Redmond gets to take part in Android's proven success story. When you consider that HTC is reportedly paying Microsoft $5 per Android phone and that there are 500,000 Android activations per day, far-reaching licensing fees could quickly add up to be a surprising contributor to Microsoft’s bottom line.
How far will Microsoft stick its fingers into the Android pie? Add Microsoft and Google to your Foolish watchlist, and then sit down with a bag of popcorn to watch the news and analysis flow in. Both tech giants also look temptingly cheap these days, giving you all the more reason to keep a close watch on 'em.