Chasing Apple? Microsoft’s NeoMedia QR Code Patent Deal Puts More Focus On Geometric Boxes

Following in the footsteps of Apple getting ready to launch its QR Code-based Passbook service, it looks like Microsoft is also giving some attention to QR Codes, the mobile barcodes that, when scanned, trigger actions like visiting websites or opening other content: NeoMedia, one of the early movers in this field, announced that Redmond has signed a worldwide licensing deal for all 74 of NeoMedia’s registered and pending QR code patents, covering “many mobile barcode implementations used widely across the industry.” Financial terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

The move could suggest a possible new chapter for QR Codes. Critics have highlighted QR Codes for being ridiculous and never used — but they will be central to Apple’s Passbook ticket/coupon proto-wallet service that will be released in iOS6 later this year, and that could lead to more usage elsewhere, too.

But if that’s the case, it’s not clear how and if the Microsoft deal will be a part of that.

Microsoft could be licensing these patents because it wants to use the technology further in upcoming applications. But it could equally be because NeoMedia has approached the company over potential patent violations in existing services.

Microsoft has been pushing its own, competing Tag mobile barcode service, although late last year it announced that its Tag reader would become interoperable with QR Codes, as well as NFC.

NeoMedia is not a stranger to enforcing its patents. In April it filed a suit against mobile marketing company SpyderLynk for QR Code patent infringement: SpyderLynk actually uses pictures rather than scrambled codes that users can use to access further information, products — and potentially more.

The company behind that suit, as well as the Microsoft deal, is Global IP Law, which inked a deal last year with NeoMedia to help monetize its patent portfolio.

In the short announcement of the deal, NeoMedia did not disclose how these patents would be used — just how important IP is right now.

“The agreement between NeoMedia and Microsoft underscores the importance of intellectual property to our growing industry,” said Laura Marriott, CEO of NeoMedia, in a statement. “As mobile barcodes become a key fixture in the mobile marketing mix, it is important for stakeholders across the industry to ensure the solutions they employ leverage the relevant intellectual property in a responsible manner.”

The focus on patents comes as NeoMedia faces some issues monetizing its technology in other ways. According to its quarterly results for the period that ended June 30, NeoMedia had 25 million installs of its QR Code-reading app across iOS, BlackBerry, Android and Nokia devices — but revenues were down to $461,000 for the last quarter, from $767,000 a year ago.

NeoMedia says its current customers include handset manufacturers, platform providers, brands and agencies.

Companies like Apple and NeoMedia are pushing against very low market take-up. This year, research indicates that only about 11% of mobile-using adults will scan a QR Code, and among those only 60% will scan one more than once. Apple could also be looking at ways of making mobile barcodes more engaging, recently winning a patent that links the scanning directly with a “shopping list” purchasing action.