[LINK] Microsoft patent plans could stifle standards

Bernard Robertson-Dunn brd@austarmetro.com.au
Thu, 13 Feb 2003 09:40:05 +1100

Microsoft patent plans could stifle standards
"It's preventing the open source community from being involved..." 
Tue 11 February 2003 04:18PM GMT

Microsoft is in the process of applying for a wide-ranging patent that
covers a variety of functions related to its .Net initiative.

If approved as is, the patent would cover application programming
interfaces (APIs) that allow actions related to accessing the network,
handling Extensible Markup Language (XML), and managing data from multiple

Microsoft declined to elaborate on its plans for the patent, but
intellectual property attorneys said that if it's granted, the company
could dictate how, or whether, developers of software and devices can link
to the .Net initiative.

"It looks pretty broad," said Jeff E. Schwartz, a partner with law firm
McKenna Long & Aldridge. "It could be fairly significant."

The patent is one of several that Microsoft is applying for related to
.Net, the company's web services initiative. By submitting the application,
which was filed last year and made public last week, Microsoft is following
the lead of other major tech companies that have aggressively pursued
patents over the years.

IBM is the most prolific patent generator, topping the list of corporate
patent awards for the last 10 years. Big Blue landed 3,288 patents in 2002,
bringing its total over the past 10 years to more than 22,000. Lately, the
company has been focusing on patenting technology related to its
computing-on-demand initiative.

Patents have become an increasingly common way for software makers to exert
control over their intellectual property. One of the concerns about the
proliferation of technology patents is the impact it could have on
standards development. Some developers fear the trend will let a few patent
holders dictate the direction of standards.

It's unclear what effect the Microsoft .Net patents would have on the
standards process. Microsoft already has submitted many of the fundamentals
of .Net to a standards body known as ECMA, formerly called the European
Computer Manufacturers Association.

One person affiliated with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), another
major standards body, said it's difficult to comment on the .Net patents
without knowing Microsoft's specific plans. The W3C is in the process of
developing a policy that would let the organisation include patented
technology in its standards as long as companies agree to provide the
technology royalty-free. The person, who asked not to be identified, said
Microsoft has agreed to such terms in the past.

IBM said last year that it would not charge royalties on patented
technology that is part of an ecommerce web standard.

More and more, the patent debate is pitting companies like IBM and
Microsoft - which are looking to patents to protect and recoup the millions
of dollars they spend developing products - against members of the open
source and free software movements, which say the patent process stifles
innovation by covering processes that are common on the web.

People like Free Software Foundation guru Richard Stallman have urged
boycotts of companies that aggressively enforce patents.

Meanwhile, Bruce Perens, a consultant and leader of the open-source
movement, worries that Microsoft's patents could shut out alternative
software development. "Microsoft is being careful to patent every aspect of
APIs related to .Net," he said. "It's preventing the open-source community
from being involved in this area."

Open-source developers are already hard at work trying to build open-source
implementations of .Net. One of them, the Mono Project, provides many of
the same APIs as .Net. When the Mono Project is completed next year,
developers will be able to build .Net applications that run on Linux and

Cats are smarter than dogs. You can not get eight cats to pull a sled
through snow. 
-- Jeff Valdez 


Bernard Robertson-Dunn
Canberra Australia