Microsoft Justifies Its XML Patent Moves

Redmond claims its decisions to open its XML schemas, while seeking patents for elements of its XML implementations, are not as contradictory as they appear.

Microsoft watchers are questioning yet again Microsofts intentions toward XML, the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) Extensible Markup Language standard.

Last year, Microsoft released publicly its Word 2003, Excel 2003 and InfoPath 2003 XML schemas. The company made the schemas freely downloadable from its own Web site, and in the case of WordXML, also via a central repository hosted by the Danish government. Microsoft said it did so as a gesture of goodwill, rather than as a response to criticism regarding its promises to open up its XML schemas.

But on the heels of that move, Microsoft has sought patent protection in Europe and New Zealand for word processing documents stored in Extensible Markup Language (XML) format. The European application is dated January 2, 2004. The New Zealand one is dated April 24, 2003. Neither patent has been granted yet.

Its not clear exactly what Microsoft is seeking to patent. But some company watchers claim that the companys patent is attempt to prohibit competing desktop word-processing applications, such as those from Sun Microsystems, Corel and others, from being able to access Microsoft Word 2003 data stored in the XML format.

The patent application states: "The present invention (word processing document stored in a single XML file) is directed at providing a word-processing document in a native XML file format that may be understood by an application that understands XML, or to enable another application or service to create a rich document in XML so that the word-processing application can open it as if it was one of its own documents."

Microsoft spokesman Mark Martin denied that the recently discovered patents contradict Microsofts fall 2003 moves to open up its XML schemas.

"While the XML standard itself is royalty free, nothing precludes a company from seeking patent protection for a specific software implementation that incorporates elements of XML," said Martin. "The presence of this patent application in New Zealand does nothing to change the commitment Microsoft made this past November when it announced the available of a royalty-free licensing program for our Office 2003 XML Reference Schemas."

Martin said it would not make sense for Microsoft to block or hamper XML development — "something it has been working to establish as a standard and get broadly and consistently developed."


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