The big winner in Apple's patent victory over Samsung -- Microsoft

Microsoft may be just as pleased as Apple with Apple's $1 billion victory over Samsung for violating Apple patents. The core of the verdict could apply to virtually all Android devices, while leaving Windows Phone free and clear. It could well ultimately lead to big market gains for Microsoft.

One of Apple's patents the jury ruled that Samsung violated was the arrangement of icons on the home screen. The Samsung arrangement is no different than the arrangement of other Android devices, so don't be surprised if Apple goes after their manufacturers as well, and ultimately after Google. That's because the icon arrangement is baked right into the Android interface.

The Windows Phone screen arrangement looks nothing like iOS or Android. It feature very large "live" tiles that display ever-changing information grabbed from the Internet. So Apple can't come after Microsoft for that.

Other patents that were infringed include certain scrolling, pinching and zooming actions, the tap-to-zoom and center features, and the bounce-back effect when you try to scroll past the end of a list.

Windows Phone uses some of those. So you might imagine that Apple would go after Microsoft for infringing on those patents. But Apple won't. That's because Microsoft has licensed a variety of iOS-related patents from Apple. As long as Microsoft doesn't "clone" the iPad or iPhone, Windows Phone as well as Windows 8 tablets are free and clear. Clearly, Microsoft hasn't done any cloning in Apple's eyes, or Apple would have gone after Microsoft already.

With Android under legal fire, and Windows Phone having no legal impediments, Microsoft has a lot to gain. Samsung and other smartphone makers may turn increasingly to Windows Phone rather than Android because of the legal uncertainty surrounding Android devices. Right now, Nokia is the primary manufacturer designing for Windows Phone. But if Samsung weighs in big-time, as well as other manufacturers, Windows Phone would get a big boost.

That would happen at the same time that carriers are looking to Windows Phone as a way to push back against Apple's demands for high royalties and subsidies for iPhones. Verizon, for example, just announced that it will carry a new Windows Phone device, the first one in more than a year. And with the release of Windows 8 just around the corner, Microsoft will soon unleash a massive marketing blitz for both Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8.

All this adds up to potential sizable market gains for Windows Phone. Thanks in part to the patent verdict for Apple, the smartphone operating system once left for dead could well become a serious contender.

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