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Microsoft to buy AOL patents for more than $1 billion

The global gold rush in technology patents gained pace Monday when Microsoft agreed to pay more than $1 billion for 800 patents held by AOL.

The lofty price — $1.3 million a patent — reflects the crucial role that patents are increasingly playing in the business and legal strategies of the world’s major technology companies, including Microsoft, Apple, Google, Samsung and HTC.

Patents that can be applied to both smartphones and tablet computers, which use much the same technology, are valued assets and feared weapons, as the market for those devices booms. Companies are battling in the marketplace and in courtrooms, where patent claims and counterclaims are filed almost daily.

“Microsoft is increasing its arsenal, even if it is expensive,” said James E. Bessen, a patent expert and lecturer at the Boston University School of Law.

AOL’s slow progress as it transforms into a media company supported by advertising has brought pressure from restive institutional shareholders. The patent sale — AOL will hold onto 300 others — is intended to help with both objectives.

—Steve Lohr, The New York Times

Syrian forces fire into Turkey in clash with refugees

BEIRUT — The deadly confrontation between Syria and opposition groups spilled into Turkey for the first time Monday as Syrian forces fired across the border near a refugee camp, casting a further pall over prospects for a U.N. peace plan due to be put into effect this week.

The shooting killed two Syrian refugees and injured at least 23 people, including a Turkish police officer, near the southern Turkish town of Kilis.

Residents of the camp reached by telephone said bullets had ripped through their prefabricated shelters, shattering windows and spreading panic.

“Even the camp isn’t safe anymore,” said Ahmad, a refugee who used only one name out of concern of repercussions in Syria.

A senior Turkish Foreign Ministry official said Syria’s ranking diplomat had been summoned and given a harsh message about Turkey’s “irritation” with the episode. There was no immediate comment from Syria.

—Neil MacFarquhar and Sebnem Arsu,
The New York Times

Seeing a Watergate in a South Korean spying scandal

SEOUL, South Korea — An unfolding political scandal ahead of Wednesday’s parliamentary elections has many South Koreans drawing comparisons with Watergate: illicit surveillance, an attempted cover-up, destruction of evidence, arrests of people connected to the president — and questions over what the president himself may have known.

Recent disclosures have fueled a public furor, forced prosecutors to reopen a 2010 investigation and dominated the election season, with opposition leaders calling for President Lee Myung-bak’s resignation.

The case centers on an ethics team that monitored public officials for possible corruption.

In 2010, seven of the team’s members were convicted of having conducted illegal surveillance in 2008 of two private citizens and of destroying computer files before prosecutors raided their office.

At the time, prosecutors failed to determine the scale of the ethics team’s operations or who directed it to monitor the private citizens.

—Choe Sang-Hun, The New York Times