.Net Patent Bid Prompts Concern

Microsoft Corp.'s recent patent application for distributed computing around its .Net architecture has stirred concern in the industry about Microsoft's intentions.

Microsoft Corp.s recent patent application for distributed computing around its .Net architecture has stirred concern in the industry about Microsofts intentions.

The Redmond, Wash., companys refusal to discuss the patent has led observers to speculate that the move is intended to help ward off the threat of several open-source initiatives—specifically Mono, a project to create an open-source implementation of .Net. Others see it as a grab for control of Web services.

Generically, the patent application—filed by Microsoft late last year but not made public until the first week of this month—seeks protection for an API for a network software platform.

"It looks to me as if theyre claiming a patent for the entire .Net Framework," said Chris Sells, a consultant and founder of Sells Brothers Inc., in Beaverton, Ore. "My understanding of patent laws says that Microsoft has every right to do this, since they invented it.

"Even if they grant such a license, projects like Mono are still vulnerable," said Sells, who specializes in .Net and Web services technology and who spoke at the VSLive conference here last week.

Jon Perr, a vice president at Ximian Inc., in Cambridge, Mass., which is leading the Mono project, said that since Microsofts .Net Framework is standardized through the ECMA, in Geneva, "any issues regarding IP or patents require that the technology be made available through reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms." Perr said development on Mono continues apace.

Greg Aharonian, a patent expert and debunker of bad patents at bustpatents.com, said he thinks fears are exaggerated. ".Net is too similar to lots of existing software technologies," said Aharonian, in San Francisco. "So any patent Microsoft could get on .Net will probably be quite narrow."

Nancy Gamburd, a patent attorney and vice chairman of the intellectual property department at the Chicago law firm of Much, Shelist, Freed, Denenberg, Ament & Rubenstein P.C., said, "There is a long-standing tradition in the law, whether it is in front of a judge, a jury or the patent office: If you dont ask, you dont get. So its not surprising that Microsoft is asking for the sun, the moon and the stars in this latest .Net patent application, which has some extraordinarily broad claims."

Despite the breadth of the patent, which comprises 43 claims, a Microsoft spokesman said the application patents some details of one possible implementation of a Web service.

In the meantime, IBM, which is the holder of several patents in Web services technology—including electronic business XML—warned that the practice of possessing patents on standard technology should not be regarded as a threat.

"The relevance is how the patent claims relate to the standards now being created, not merely the existence of the claims or patent applications," said Bob Sutor, director of Web services technology at IBM, in Armonk, N.Y. "We dont yet know enough about what Microsoft has done here to have formed an opinion."

IBM is a supporter of the royalty-free licensing of specifications for Web services, including Simple Object Access Protocol, Web Services Description Language and Business Process Execution Language.

What The Patent Seeks

  • An API for a network software platform
  • A software architecture for a distributed computing system
  • An API embodied on computer-readable media
  • A distributed computer software architecture
  • A method for exposing resources using an API interface