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AOL to sell more than 800 patents to Microsoft

Mon, 04/09/2012 - 2:00pm
The Associated Press

AOL shares surged Monday to their highest level in more than a year after it said it has agreed to sell 800 of its patents and license others to Microsoft for about $1.06 billion in cash.

The New York-based website developer and Internet access company said it plans to return some of the sale proceeds to its shareholders. After the sale, AOL should have about $15 per share of cash on hand, it said.

AOL shares jumped $7.78, or 43 percent, to $26.20 in morning trading, adding about $750 million to its market capitalization. Microsoft shares slipped 37 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $31.15 in morning trading.

In February, one of AOL's largest shareholders, an investment firm, said it would nominate candidates for the company's board because it wasn't doing enough to make money from its patents. In response, the company said it had already begun to look at ways to unlock patent value.

Patents have become a hot commodity in the high-tech industry in the last few years. They're useful both for attack – for suing competitors – and for defense – for warding off lawsuits with threats of countersuits. Software patents can have broad applications, and thousands of patents can apply to a complicated product like a cell phone. Google is buying phone-maker Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion to get ahold of its patents.

After the sale, AOL said it will still hold more than 300 patents and applications covering a variety of core and strategic technologies, including advertising, search, content generation, social networking, mapping, multimedia and security, among others.

AOL also received a license to the patents being sold to Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft.

"The combined sale and licensing arrangement unlocks current dollar value for our shareholders and enables AOL to continue to aggressively execute on our strategy to create long-term shareholder value," AOL Chairman and CEO Tim Armstrong said.

AOL said it will determine the best way to distribute a "significant portion" of the sale proceeds to shareholders before the sale closes, which is expected to happen by the end of this year.

AOL owns news sites like Huffington Post, Engadget and TechCrunch, but it still makes much of its money by providing dial-up Internet access.

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