Microsoft to license mouse, keyboard patents

Microsoft Corp. will license three proprietary mouse and keyboard technologies to other manufacturers, part of a three-year-old strategy to license its intellectual property to both allies and competitors to help defray the billions of dollars it spends on research and development.

Microsoft, which announced the move Tuesday. sells tens of millions of the devices per year. But 'hardware is a tough, thin-margined business,' said David Kaefer, director of business development for Microsoft's intellectual property and licensing group. Kaefer declined to comment on whether selling mice and keyboards, which Microsoft has done for 2 decades, has been profitable.

Microsoft will continue to make mice and keyboards, but will offer the technologies to competitors such as Creative Technology Ltd. or even market leader Logitech International Inc.

One technology allows PCs to automatically detect when a mouse is inserted into either a PS/2 or USB port. Another lets the scroll wheel on a mouse be tilted in order to move the cursor. The last creates a magnifying glass on screen for easier reading.

In December 2003, Microsoft vowed to make its IP portfolio broadly available for licensing to interested parties. It has already licensed its ActiveSync protocol, which is used to connect mobile phones to Microsoft Exchange Server for e-mail access, to Motorola Corp., and parts of Windows Media Player to TurboLinux Inc.

Microsoft will offer the tilt wheel feature to vendors for 30 cents per mouse and the auto-detection feature for 35 cents per keyboard or mouse.