As the Samsung-Apple case gathers steam in the Californian courts, new interesting tid-bits are emerging, shedding light on the involved companies’ internal as well as their inter company dealings. One such interesting factoid that has emerged from the trial is that Microsoft and Apple have a cross-licensing agreement that allows Microsoft to use some of Apple design patents.

Many of you would have noticed that Microsoft’s mobile devices bear some resemblance to their Apple counterparts. The similarity is even more evident in the new Microsoft Tablet Surface which has a general curved, black bezel design that has been a part of iPads since the very beginning. According to Reuters unlike Samsung it is perfectly legal for Microsoft to use some of Apple’s design patents.

A snippet from the trial published by AllThingsD gives us the reason why Microsoft is allowed to copy Apple’s design components and Samsung isn’t:

Teksler noted that Apple and Microsoft have a cross-license agreement that does cover the design patents at issue in this case, but said that there are also special “anti-cloning” provisions in the agreement between those two companies. “We couldn’t copy each other’s products,” Teksler said.

As of now not much is known about the price paid by Microsoft for using Apple’s patents or which patents are being used by Microsoft. The report adds another point that both the companies have also signed an anti-cloning pact that prevents them from copying each others products in-spite of sharing some of the design patents. This news is even more significant given the torrid history of the court battles fought by the two companies over the issue of Microsoft copying Apple’s OS more than a decade ago.

Last week it was revealed that Apple had tried striking a similar patent deal with Samsung. The deal involved Samsung paying $30 royalty per phone and $40 per tablet to Apple. Samsung, unlike Microsoft didn’t go ahead with the deal and is now facing the repercussions. The patents deal with Samsung was going to involve only hardware patents and not the software patents as Apple wanted to conserve its unique user experience which makes the iOS devices so popular.

These patent agreement deals are a sharp departure from the pre Steve Jobs’ death era when Apple rarely licensed its patents to other companies. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1998, the first thing he did was stop the licensing of Apple’s then operating system to other companies.