Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos just announced a new Kindle Fire tablet based on Google’s Android operating system. Steve Ballmer says Microsoft deserves patent royalties from Android device makers. And the existing patent deal between the companies doesn’t cover Amazon’s new Android tablet.

Who will win this wrestling match?

Here’s the background: Amazon.com and Microsoft signed a wide-ranging patent agreement last year, giving the online retailer a license to Microsoft patents covering Amazon’s Kindle e-reader (which runs on a version of Linux) and Amazon’s use of Linux-based servers.

But after digging into the issue a bit this morning, our understanding is that the deal doesn’t include explicit coverage for Amazon’s implementation of Google’s Android operating system.

That’s a potential issue because Microsoft has been on a campaign to secure patent royalties from Android device vendors — announcing a major deal with Samsung this morning.

No comment from either company on this topic, but it should be an interesting one to watch. At $199, Amazon’s new tablet is a direct competitor to Barnes & Noble’s Nook Color, a low-priced alternative to Apple’s iPad and a potential rival to a new class of low-priced Windows 8 tablets.

Microsoft has been criticized for attempting to win royalties from companies implementing Android and other competing technologies, but the company says it has also paid out more than $4.5 billion in royalties itself and struck more than 700 patent licensing deals in the past decade.

Google’s chief legal officer recently spoke out against what he called “a hostile, organized campaign against Android by Microsoft, Oracle, Apple and other companies, waged through bogus patents.”

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