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The news at a glance

Patents: Microsoft builds up its arsenal; Mobile: Tracking and disabling stolen phones; Companies: Sony awash in red ink; Copyright: The return of an old dispute; Tech: Yahoo’s new boss reorganizes

Patents: Microsoft builds up its arsenal
 
Microsoft agreed to pay AOL $1.1 billion this week for a portfolio of 800 patents, firing the latest salvo in the corporate battle over the technologies that power the Internet and smartphones, said Richard Waters and David Gelles in the Financial Times. The deal further expands Microsoft’s patent collection, which “already overshadows” those of rivals Google and Apple, and injects some much-needed cash into AOL, shares of which moved sharply higher. The sticker price for the 800 patents, which cover email and messaging functions as well as custom advertising technologies, “represents a new high point among recent sales,” and signals that the demand for patents will only increase. It’s “like the Cold War arms race,” said Ron Laurie, a Silicon Valley patent expert.

Patents are now seen as “valued assets and feared weapons” in the industry’s escalating legal battles, said Steve Lohr in The New York Times. Patent lawsuits are being “filed almost daily” in courtrooms around the world, and deep portfolios are seen as the best way to stave off competition. Industrial titans have long fought over patents, but now “the stakes are a lot higher, a lot faster,” said David J. Kappos, director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Mobile: Tracking and disabling stolen phones
Life is about to get harder for cellphone thieves, said Rolfe Winkler in The Wall Street Journal. Four major U.S. wireless providers—AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon—agreed this week to create a national database of stolen phones, and to deny data and voice service to the lost devices. Cellphone theft is now one of the fastest-growing crimes in the U.S., and law-enforcement officials say the database will help lower the resale value of pilfered phones.

Companies: Sony awash in red ink
Sony’s woes are deepening, said Tim Kelly in Reuters.com. The Japanese electronics and entertainment company said this week that it lost $6.4 billion in 2011, its biggest annual loss ever and double earlier estimates. It was the fourth year in a row that Sony was in the red, and while 2011’s loss was largely due to a massive tax expense, the company’s TV sets and gadgets have been battered by weak demand and competition from rivals like Samsung. Japanese media reported earlier this week that the company could soon axe up to 10,000 employees.

Copyright: The return of an old dispute
An old battle between content companies and YouTube is being rejoined, said Dawn C. Chmielewski in the Los Angeles Times. YouTube won a 2007 lawsuit brought by Viacom accusing the video site of letting users illegally upload copyrighted TV clips. But last week, a federal appeals court judge ordered a lower court to reconsider, and evidence indicates that YouTube might be vulnerable. Emails show company co-founder Steve Chen arguing that “we should just keep” copyrighted clips on the site until owners protest. 

Tech: Yahoo’s new boss reorganizes
Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson has wasted no time in engineering a turnaround for the struggling Internet giant, said Tom Giles in Bloomberg.com. On the job since January, Thompson outlined his vision for a major restructuring this week, focusing on revamping consumer businesses like media and search, reorganizing functions under geographical regions, and renewing efforts to collect user data. “Over the last 60 days, we’ve fundamentally rethought every part of our business,” Thompson wrote in a letter to employees last week. Yahoo also announced that it was eliminating 2,000 jobs, about 14 percent of its global workforce.

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