When AOL agreed to sell more than 800 patents to Microsoft for a cool 1.1-billion in cold cash, it didn’t just buy patents. Microsoft seems to have bought, according to AllThingsD, the “underlying patents for the old [Netscape] browser.” However, AllThingsD may not have realized just how incredibly vital those Netscape patents are to all Web services and browsers.
There was a time when this deal would have been enormous news. Netscape was once a fierce rival to Microsoft. Indeed, it was Microsoft’s illegal attacks on the Netscape browser that led both to Netscape’s eventual decline and death and the Department of Justice’s taking Microsoft down a peg.
Netscape, today, though is little more than an obscure brand name, a URL and an ISP, which AOL will keep, and little else. Indeed, in AOL’s Security & Exchange Commission 8-K describing the deal, AOL merely states that, in addition to selling Microsoft patents and granting them the right to use all of AOL’s other patents, “The transaction is structured as a purchase of all of the outstanding shares of a wholly-owned non-operating subsidiary of the Company and the direct acquisition of those patents in the portfolio not held by the subsidiary.” What is “that non-operating subsidiary? That would be Netscape.
Guess what? This is still gigantic news.