Microsoft and Toshiba have signed a cross-licensing pact covering computer and consumer electronics products.

The agreement was signed late last month and allows the companies to freely use a number of each other's patents.

Spokesmen from Toshiba and Microsoft declined to discuss how many patents were included in the agreement, or how long the agreement is valid. "I am afraid it's confidential," Yasuda said.

The deal follows a December 2003 decision by Microsoft to enter into cross-licensing deals with key partners. Since then, Microsoft has also signed cross-licensing deals with a number of companies including Siemens and SAP.

Toshiba isn't the first major Japanese electronics maker to sign such an agreement. Last December, Sony signed a five-year cross-licensing deal with Samsung covering a total of 24,000 patents owned by the two companies, as part of a move to reduce costs and potential friction between them.

At the time, Sony said such agreements were becoming necessary because of the sharp rise in the number of patents filed for digital and networking technologies over the last 10 years.

A number of major Japanese electronics companies have recently become entangled in patent infringement suits, some of which are still ongoing.

Recently, Toshiba was found liable and ordered to pay $380 million to Lexar Media in a dispute over flash memory technologies. Toshiba is also locked into a further case of patent infringement over other patents with Lexar.