Microsoft Plays Intellectual Property Licensing Catch-Up

Analysts were mostly upbeat following Microsoft's Wednesday debut of a new, streamlined intellectual-property (IP) licensing strategy, including its file allocation table (FAT) file system and ClearType font-rendering technologies.

Microsoft on Wednesday debuted its new, streamlined intellectual-property (IP) licensing strategy with the announcement that it is now offering, for a fee, its file allocation table (FAT) file system and ClearType font-rendering technologies to any interested licensees.

At the same time, the Redmond software company also launched a one-stop IP licensing Web site, where it displays the various software and specifications it is offering to license under various royalty- and royalty-free plans. Currently listed, in addition to FAT and ClearType, are Microsofts Office 2003 XML schemas (the bulk of which are set to go public this Friday) and a number of standards specifications, including broadband Sockets; WS-Security; and Business Process Execution Language for Web Services, or BPEL, 1.1.

This isnt the first time Microsoft has licensed its IP, said Marshall Phelps, Microsofts corporate vice president and deputy general counsel for intellectual property. "Weve done a number of one-off patent licenses and cross-licensing patents with leading IT vendors in the past. But before, it typically was one-off and ad-hoc propositions," he said.

/zimages/2/28571.gifFor more of Marshall Phelps comments on Microsofts IP licensing strategy, click here.

Phelps and other Microsoft execs also denied that Microsofts decision to expand its IP licensing is related to any of its antitrust problems in the U.S. or abroad, or was done in response to pressures from customers or partners whove been evaluating the more relaxed licensing terms offered via the GNU General Public License or other open-source licensing mechanisms.

During a conference call with reporters and analysts held Monday, Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith told participants that Microsofts announcement on Wednesday was "not directly related to legal issues in the U.S. or Europe." He said, instead, the new policies are "a step that will promote and enhance interoperability" between Microsoft and the rest of the industry.

Nonetheless, "reasonable and non-discriminatory (RAND) IP licensing has been a major issue in the DOJ and EU cases against Microsoft," noted Burton Group VP and research director Anne Thomas Manes. "I view Microsofts past history of discriminatory license practices to be one of its most egregious actions. The DOJ settlement requires Microsoft to provide RAND licensing of its system protocols. Id be very happy to see Microsoft adopt RAND policies for a lot more of its IP.

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