updated 5/13/2005 8:31:38 PM ET 2005-05-14T00:31:38

Toshiba Corp. and Microsoft Corp. have signed a patent cross-licensing pact that will enable the two companies to use each other's patents freely in the computer and audiovisual equipment sectors.

(MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

The patents include those related to software technology in the two areas, according to a Toshiba spokeswoman.

Japan's second-largest electronics maker signed the pact with the U.S. software maker in late April, Midori Suzuki, the spokeswoman, said Friday.

She declined to give further details.

The arrangement comes as patent infringement suits involving Japanese makers of flat panel displays and memory chips are growing in the rapidly expanding digital consumer electronics industry.

Last December, Sony Corp. and South Korean company Samsung Electronics Co. signed a licensing agreement to share several patents so the two electronics giants could develop products without worrying about butting heads.

With growth in the traditional personal computer market slowing, Microsoft is accelerating its efforts to gain a presence in the newer digital consumer electronics arena, which is led by Japanese firms such as Sony and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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