Patent Claims Are a Red Herring, Microsoft Says

By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2005-03-24 Print this article Print

Legal organizations scrutinizing the legitimacy of Microsoft's patent on automatic IP address generation have an anti-patent agenda, Microsoft claims. Not so, says the Public Patent Foundation, given that private, anonymous companies were the ones to brin

Legal organizations scrutinizing the legitimacy of Microsoft Corp.s patent on automatic IP address generation have an "anti-patent" agenda, according to Microsoft. "This isnt the first time weve seen these groups [the Public Patent Foundation and the Software Freedom Law Center] make accusations about Microsoft patents," said David Kaefer, Microsofts director of intellectual property licensing, in an interview with
"Its been the case before that people have offered misleading claims, primarily because those people oppose software patents but use issues like this one to sow uncertainty about the patent process itself."
The brouhaha broke Tuesday, after a lawyer for Kenyon & Kenyon brought to eWEEK.coms attention patent USP 6,101,499, filed in 1998 and issued to Microsoft in 2000. The patent covers technology that bears "more than a passing similarity" to IPv6, one of the backbones of the Internet, according to the lawyer, Frank Bernstein. Bernstein represents a company—whose name he declined to disclose—that offers open-source products, he said. Bernstein said he also brought the patent to the attention of legal organizations before contacting PubPat—the Public Patent Foundation—was quick to point out that it was the company or companies who hired Kenyon & Kenyon that brought the matter to light, as opposed to organizations with a hidden agenda. "We didnt complain about this," said PubPat Executive Director Dan Ravicher. "Private companies complained about this first. We werent the ones to raise the yellow flag. [Microsoft is trying to put my organization and [the Software Freedom Law Center] in the middle." At the crux of the matter are allegations that Microsoft failed to disclose prior work done by the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) on the technology in question when it applied for the patent in April 1998. PubPats investigations have uncovered several references to the technology that count as prior art to the patent, Ravicher said, including several RFCs (requests for consensus) from the IETFs IPv6 working group. Several Microsoft engineers who were involved in the IETF working group also show up as inventors listed on the patent, Ravicher said—a circumstance that may rule out the possibility that Microsofts left hand didnt know what its right hand was doing. Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols compares the current state of software patents to the Cold War policy of mutual self-destruction. Click here to read more. "Some of the names of inventors on the patents were involved in the committee," said Ravicher, in New York. "Its not like some group of different people were inventors of the patent. There was overlap." Microsofts Kaefer denied any hanky-panky on the part of engineers. "Microsoft is not trying to patent the Internet," said Kaefer, in Redmond, Wash. "We believe we have followed all the normal procedures to file for this patent. We work very closely with the IETF and other standards bodies on a daily basis and take our standards responsibilities very seriously." Next Page: Debate rages on patent applicability.

Lisa Vaas is News Editor/Operations for and also serves as editor of the Database topic center. Since 1995, she has also been a Webcast news show anchorperson and a reporter covering the IT industry. She has focused on customer relationship management technology, IT salaries and careers, effects of the H1-B visa on the technology workforce, wireless technology, security, and, most recently, databases and the technologies that touch upon them. Her articles have appeared in eWEEK's print edition, on, and in the startup IT magazine PC Connection. Prior to becoming a journalist, Vaas experienced an array of eye-opening careers, including driving a cab in Boston, photographing cranky babies in shopping malls, selling cameras, typography and computer training. She stopped a hair short of finishing an M.A. in English at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. She earned a B.S. in Communications from Emerson College. She runs two open-mic reading series in Boston and currently keeps bees in her home in Mashpee, Mass.

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