Xiaomi certainly wasn’t the first smartphone company to unashamedly copy Apple, but it likely did the most thorough job of it following the company’s launch back in 2010. At one point, the Chinese smartphone startup even had a man in a black mock turtleneck and jeans unveil a new smartphone on stage as a press conference. The tech media pointed and laughed, but Xiaomi laughed all the way to the bank — the company’s valuation climbed to as high as $46 billion in late 2015, and it has enjoyed faster growth than any other smartphone maker in recent years.
Like Samsung before it, Xiaomi dialed down its blatant copying of Apple’s iPhone line once it began to see commercial success, and its phones now barely resemble the iPhone. Now, it looks like the company is preparing to sell its smartphones in the United States for the first time.
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Had Xiaomi attempted to enter the US market as recently as a few years ago, Apple would likely have sued it into oblivion. But with growth in Asian markets finally starting to cool — the company’s shipments fell 9% in the first quarter — Xiaomi must look elsewhere for expansion.
Reuters reported on Wednesday morning that Xiaomi has purchased approximately 1,500 patents from Microsoft. Why is that significant? Xiaomi is a new company in the mobile space and it has precious little patent protection. The only thing that keeps companies like Apple, Samsung and LG from continuing to sue each other is the fact that each company could bring countless claims against the other because patent portfolios have grown so deep.
Thanks to its new deal with Microsoft, Xiaomi has purchased some protection in this crucial area. And Xiaomi isn’t being shy about its intentions to expand, either. The company’s senior vice president Wang Xiang told Reuters that the Microsoft deal and the 3,700 additional patents Xiaomi filed in China in 2015 were “an important step forwards to support our expansion internationally.”
For consumers in the US, this should end up being good news. Xiaomi has become known for selling affordable smartphones with designs and specs that rival far more expensive models. While Xiaomi has established itself in China and elsewhere in the world, it would be the first hot new smartphone brand to launch in America in quite some time.