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By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2003-12-03 Print this article Print

According to Smith and others, Microsoft execs spent the past year talking to a number of IT industry players about IP licensing. In addition to speaking with venture capitalists, Microsoft worked with 30 companies to come up with a more streamlined licensing policy that is based on "industry norms," Phelps said. Microsoft officials studied a number of key software licensors, including IBM, Intel, Fujitsu, Hewlett Packard, Philips and Xerox, and learned from their policies, they said.
This announcement, however, marks the first time that Microsoft is licensing some of its patented technologies simultaneously to multiple parties under a common license. Of the 4,000 existing Microsoft patented technologies (and additional 5,400 for which patents are pending), the company chose FAT and ClearType as its first two to make available under the expanded program.
The FAT file system, the 32-bit version of which debuted as part of Windows 95 Service Pack 2, is no longer Microsofts own file system of choice. Both Windows XP and Windows Longhorn (as well as Windows Server) are centered around the NT file system (NTFS). "FAT is a popular technology with a huge installed base," said David Kaefer, director of business development with Microsofts IP and licensing group. But where the company is currently seeing demand for FAT is among Asian consumer electronics companies, who want to embed it in flash memory, digital camera and camcorders, he admitted. The first licensee of FAT under the new licensing terms is consumer-electronics vendor Lexar Media Inc. of Fremont, Calif., Microsoft announced today. SanDisk Corp. of Sunnyvale, Calif., also issued a statement expressing interest. Microsoft said a half dozen companies have expressed interest in licensing the FAT spec and IP rights. Microsoft licenses the FAT technology for a fee of approximately .25 per device. "A lot of these devices already have FAT included," Kaefer pointed out, "but its reverse-engineered," not based on a spec licensed from Microsoft. The result? There are many "imperfect connections" between consumer devices and Windows, he said. William Hurley, senior analyst with the Portland, Ore.-based researcher Enterprise Application Group, noted that FAT also could be licensed by third party ISVs interested in building FAT-based migration tools. "With tens of millions of Windows NT systems still in use, Microsoft needs get upgrades in high gear. Allowing third parties to innovate FAT-based tools that will allow older, legacy applications and their data to be migrated to NTFS is critical," Hurley said. Another benefit to Microsoft: By licensing FAT to others, "Microsoft also need not be in the business of solving FAT problems as they solidify the NTFS install base while preparing WinFS in Longhorn," he continued. Meanwhile, Microsoft also offered licensing arrangements for its ClearType font-rendering technology developed in the late 1990s. The technology is baked into a number of Microsoft products, such as Windows, allowing a number of independent software vendors running on Windows already have been able to take advantage of ClearType. Officials said the ClearType licensing fee will cost between $1 and $3 per device. "But if you want ClearType on a non-Windows device or on a cell phone or PDA," you might want to license it under the new IP licensing program, said Kaefer. Wilmington, Mass.-based Afga Monotype Corp. announced its plans to license ClearType on Wednesday. Officials with Adobe Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif., which offers a head-to-head competitor to ClearType called "CoolType" said that while they were aware of the Microsoft announcement today, they had no comment. Wednesdays IP licensing announcements were just the first round and officials offered some hints regarding what it plans to add to its portfolio in the future. Company officials said to expect Microsoft to add more Web services specs to its royalty-free, licensable options in the future. And Phelps said that Microsoft has talked with venture capitalists about the best way for it to make some of the Microsoft Research technologies it has developed, but not used itself, available to startups and other software vendors. "I think Microsoft is definitely on the right track, and as weve long suspected, they realize that adding any roadblocks to the continued development of Web services (a k a royalties on SOAP) would be detrimental to the whole industry," said Ronald Schmelzer, senior analyst with industry think tank ZapThink of Waltham, Mass. "It makes little, if any, sense for major vendors to put royalties on technologies that are still trying to gain adoption. Theyd be shooting themselves in the foot, more than gaining any revenue from that activity. After all, would Microsoft rather sell millions of dollars of Windows 2003 licenses or collect a few hundred thousand dollars of SOAP licenses while cannibalizing their capability to sell new servers? I think theyd rather sell software than be a toll booth," Schmelzer said. Discuss This in the eWEEK Forum

Darryl K. Taft covers the development tools and developer-related issues beat from his office in Baltimore. He has more than 10 years of experience in the business and is always looking for the next scoop. Taft is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and was named 'one of the most active middleware reporters in the world' by The Middleware Co. He also has his own card in the 'Who's Who in Enterprise Java' deck.

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