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Autodesk Inc. and Microsoft Corp. have entered into a cross-licensing agreement that gives both companies access to a broad range of one another’s patent portfolios in a move that should allow each company to broaden its product offerings.

The two companies will announce the deal on Thursday, which will promote the exchange and implementation of patented technologies in many areas, including data management, collaboration, design data management, digital effects, digital rights management, project management, computer-aided design and location-based services.

David Kaefer, Microsoft’s director of intellectual property licensing, told eWEEK in an interview that this is a straight-up patent licensing agreement and continues the momentum following similar agreements with SAP, Siemens and Cisco Systems Inc.

“Autodesk [a software and services company for the building, manufacturing, infrastructure, digital media and wireless data services fields] and Microsoft have worked together for many years,” he said. “Autodesk is one of Microsoft’s most successful ISV partners and is very involved in many of our beta programs. We have had a very rich technical collaboration relationship with them, but we have not had a patent cross-licensing agreement with them until now.”

Autodesk’s market leadership is in digital media around animation and editing, building applications, and manufacturing process. “Certainly their graphics is of mutual interest to us. That was a rich area for us, and we will be licensing one another’s designs so that we can both move forward in that space,” Kaefer said.

But the deal does not signify any product strategy changes for the two companies, Kaefer said, but merely reflects the reality of the need for these types of business arrangements.

“If you think about what we are doing in the Xbox area—for example, video games—there is no doubt that Autodesk’s leadership in 3-D graphics rendering has some value for some things we want to do,” he said.

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“That also carries through to other product lines, like when we think about Longhorn [the next version of Windows] and some of the graphical user interface types of experiences we’d like to see there going forward. Graphics is serious business, and Autodesk has done a lot of interesting things there,” he said.

Marcia Sterling, a senior vice president at Autodesk, said the company is committed to pursuing technologies that improve the products and services it provides customers, whether through research and development, joint ventures or alliances. “Many Microsoft and Autodesk products are already tightly integrated, we share many joint customers, and we’re pleased to expand this mutually beneficial relationship,” she said.

Microsoft is currently engaged in a number of cross-licensing agreement discussions in the United States, Europe and Asia with software, hardware, digital media and telecommunications companies, many of whom are very diverse, Kaefer said.

The goal is to have cross-licensing agreements with the 30 to 40 global companies that hold the most patents. “That’s our goal for the next five years,” he said, adding that the benefit of such relationships include development freedom, strong relationships and alliances as well as encouraging technical standardization.

Defending intellectual property and patent licensing is also quickly becoming a hot button for proprietary and open-source software developers alike, with some in the industry saying it is not a case of if but when Linux and open-source software developers will be forced to license other vendors’ intellectual property, regardless of how complicated it may be to execute under the GPL (GNU General Public License).

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