Samsung and Google have announced a global patent cross-licensing agreement covering “a broad range of technologies and business areas”.  Samsung’s announcement is lacking in detail and leaves many questions open, but most commentators are focusing on the relevance to Android and the smartphone space, and in particular how this plays out with respect to each company’s position with respect to Apple.

The ongoing smartphone patent wars have been continuing apace and now the web of who is suing who and the deals that are in place has become so complex that most commentators seem to have given up on producing nice diagrams to illustrate the mess (the earliest result on the first page of a search on a well-known search engine for patent wars diagram is from 2012).  However, whatever the ramifications and the details, this deal does appear to be a genuinely significant development.

So of course it will be interesting to see how this plays out with Apple and other competitors in the smartphone space.  However cross-licensing is always a numbers game – the numbers of patents that the big technology players are securing is extraordinary – see this chart with a summary of the 50 companies with the most US patents granted in 2013.  Both Samsung and Google have patent portfolios that cover many areas outside of the smartphone space.  To me this suggests that there may be scope for broader collaboration than the Android issue that is the focus of most disputes at the moment.

The cross-licensing deal also lasts for 10 years and there are bound to be big industry changes within that timeframe.  If you think of how quickly the fortunes of large companies can change – I’m thinking of Nokia, HTC and RIM/Blackberry – it seems inevitable that in a few years’ time there will be other big players on the global scene.  Perhaps Samsung should be more worried about the emergence of Chinese manufacturers in the coming years than the present might of Apple.

With that perspective, I think the combination of Google’s software capabilities and Samsung’s hardware expertise might have a wider significance, in areas such as wearable tech and the “internet of things”.  If these companies really do end up engaging in “deeper collaboration on research and development of current and future products and technologies” as mentioned in the official release, then it will be fascinating to see what develops.