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The ongoing patent trial between Apple and Samsung turned out an interesting bit of Microsoft-related news today, as Apple patent executive Boris Teksler cited Microsoft as an exception to Apple’s normal practice of declining to license its design patents to other companies.

Teksler said a patent cross-licensing deal between Microsoft and Apple includes some of the same types of patents in dispute in the Samsung trial. These are patents related to Apple’s user experiece, according to reports from the California courtroom by the Wall Street Journal, CNet News and AllThingsD.

However, the Apple-Microsoft agreement includes a provision that prevents “cloning,” the executive said during questioning in the courtroom. It’s an interesting given the history of the companies, and longstanding accusations that Microsoft Windows originally took its cues from the Mac.

It isn’t clear where the companies draw the line between using a design patent and cloning a design. However, the existence of a broad patent-licensing agreement between archrivals Microsoft and Apple isn’t a surprise. It dates back to the cooperation agreement and investment in Apple by Microsoft that was struck by the companies in 1997, after Steve Jobs returned to lead the company.

The licensing agreement helps to explain why Microsoft and Apple aren’t going toe-to-toe over patents. Microsoft’s user interfaces for Windows Phone, Windows 8 and its new Windows-powered Surface tablet computer also have a decidedly different approach from the iPad and iPhone.

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