Sender ID Wars Heat Up

Microsoft says it won't require anyone to sign a license with the company to implement the Sender ID specification-a move that some in the open-source community call a "victory" but others say doesn't indicate compatibility with open-sour

Has Microsoft blinked on its licensing requirements for Sender ID, making it more acceptable to the open-source community? Some open-source leaders and companies think that it has, while others vehemently disagree.

Although Microsoft hasnt officially changed its Sender ID license, Harry Katz, program manager for Microsoft Exchange, has made three points about how it will be interpreted in a message to a standards group of the Internet Engineering Task Force named MTA Authorization Records in DNS, or MARID, which is working on Sender ID.

/zimages/2/28571.gifRead more here about MARID and its effort to form a proposed standard for SMTP authentication.

"At this time, Microsoft is only aware of pending patent-application claims that cover its submission of the Sender ID specification," Katz said.

"Because Microsoft is not aware of any issued patent claims, Microsoft does not require anyone to sign a license with Microsoft to implement the Sender ID specification or any part of it that is incorporated into IETF [Internet Engineering Task Force] working drafts."

So, while Microsoft may patent technology that is included in Sender ID, it has no Sender ID patents for now.

"In conformance with the IETF IPR [Intellectual Property Rights] policy, Microsoft has disclosed the existence of those pending patent claims and has provided its assurance that if such claims are granted, Microsoft will make licenses available on reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms," Katz said.

"Second, as per the terms of the license itself, end-users who are recipients of a licensed implementation of Sender ID and distributors who are redistributing a branded, licensed implementation do not need to separately sign this license agreement," he said.

"Finally, we have committed to a royalty-free license," Katz said. "That means Microsoft will never charge a royalty or licensing fee to anyone using the Sender ID necessary patent claims to implement the Sender ID specification."

That was good enough for Sendmail Inc., maker of the leading Internet mail-routing server. Sendmail on Monday released the first implementation of its Sender ID authentication specification for testing under the Sendmail Open Source License, a variation of the BSD (Berkeley Software Distribution) license.

This module has been released as an open-source plug-in to the Sendmail MTA (Mail Transfer Agent). The Sendmail open-source mail filter, or "milter," is available from Sendmail.

But Sendmail is releasing its Sender ID milter without signing any licensing agreement with Microsoft.

"I dont plan on signing a Microsoft license since, from a business standpoint, it doesnt give me anything anyway," said Dave Anderson, Sendmails CEO. "This isnt just for testing. I plan on going into production with no signed agreement."

"Microsoft has said that the license is royalty-free, so why would I want one?" he asked. "Im certainly not the right person to judge if [Microsofts Sender ID licensing position] is acceptable to the open-source community at large, but I do have to say that there are numerous open-source licenses—youre not talking about one thing."

/zimages/2/28571.gifSender ID will soon be history, Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer writes. Click here to read more.

But Lawrence Rosen, a partner in the law firm Rosenlaw & Einschlag and author of "Open-Source Licensing: Software Freedom and Intellectual Property Law," said he thinks Microsofts change in stance is not sufficient.

"Microsoft has not made its Sender ID patent available under a license that is compatible with the GPL [GNU General Public License] or other open-source licenses. Their attorney and I—on behalf of several interested parties including the FSF [Free Software Foundation]—are working together to make that happen," Rosen said.

"I encourage everyone to be patient and optimistic, but in the meantime, please do not accept Microsofts Sender ID patents under the current license terms."

Next Page: A "victory" for open source?