Transparency Trend

By Alexander Wolfe  |  Posted 2004-04-12 Print this article Print

In addition, Microsoft sometimes moves to patent what outsiders might see as self-evident technologies. In March, Microsoft was awarded U.S. patent No. 6,700,564 for a two-way scroll mouse that adds horizontal movement alongside the traditional vertical scrolling feature, which is traditionally found in pointing devices. "They have had an aggressive patent portfolio since the 1994 case with Stac," said Bruce Perens, co-founder of the Open Source Initiative.
In that famous legal donnybrook, Stac Electronics of Carlsbad, Calif., sued Microsoft, claiming that the latters DoubleSpace disk-compression technology infringed on two of its data-compression patents. Stac was awarded $120 million by a California jury. Microsoft countersued Stac in the same case, claiming misuse of a software preloading feature; the jury awarded Microsoft $13.7 million.
Rather than battle out disputes in court as Microsoft has done in the past, the companys patent-licensing deals with InterTrust and Sun may be evidence of an industry thats more likely to settle than to fight. "These patent cross-licensing deals signify an industry thats getting more mature," Zuck said. "Companies are having to balance customer demands for interoperability with IP protection. So, patents are taking on a more significant role than they have in the past, when companies could rely on trade secrets for protection." Zuck noted that Microsoft recently formalized its model for licensing its patents to other companies. "The trend going forward is for transparent sharing of portfolios," Zuck said. "I think were going to see a lot of patent cross-licensing, and thats a good thing." But Perens, a noted open-source advocate, said he worries that Microsoft may ultimately use its patent clout to protect Windows in its battle against Linux. "One thing they will do with their patent portfolio is enforce it against open-source software," he said. "Not to get money, because we dont have any, but they will attempt to block our implementations." Perens said he foresees a scenario in which Microsoft moves to patent technologies such as the standards that form the basis for its file systems and protocols. "Say that you need a particular patent to implement a standard," he said. "Microsoft sues an open-source developer. The developer has to settle because he doesnt have any money. The result is that open source cannot interoperate with other programs that use the standard." According to Microsofts Kaefer, "Well make our IP available to all comers, open-source or not." Kaefer added that Microsoft isnt focused on what garage-shop developers are doing but that if a major corporation is using its IP, "We would need to look at it." Whether or not that scenario pans out, Microsoft is clearly moving on the international front to secure its patent portfolio. According to the Boston-based Asian American Lawyers Association of Massachusetts, Microsoft is looking to establishing a new IP practice in China. The prospectus for an IP attorney job opening reads, "The Intellectual Property and Licensing group at Microsoft is starting a phase of international expansion and is looking for an outstanding IP attorney to build and develop the IP legal function in greater China. The position is based at Microsofts new Beijing facilities in the downtown area." The lawyer will help identify technologies for potential licensing and develop ideas for increased "patent viability," the document states. Check out eWEEK.coms Windows Center at for Microsoft and Windows news, views and analysis. Be sure to add our Windows news feed to your RSS newsreader or My Yahoo page:  


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