Legal Analyst Sees Defects in Microsoft Open XML Initiative

An attorney specializing in intellectual property law and an anti-software patents activist say there are significant defects in Microsoft's Office open XML format initiative.

Microsofts open standard Office XML format announcement may not be that big a deal, according to one standards attorney.

When Microsoft announced Monday that it was submitting its Office 12 XML format specifications to Ecma International to become an open standard, many took a wait-and-see attitude toward it. They did so because Microsoft had not revealed a license for its proposed standard.

Microsoft is expected to reveal the license text some time this week, even as most businesses closed early Wednesday for the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

Alan Yates, the general manager of Microsofts Information Worker Strategy, has said, though, that "the new license that will accompany the Open XML format with the standards organization will go well beyond traditional standards licensing and will be very positive for the vast majority of developers, even open-source developers."

A number of companies and organizations co-sponsor the submission of the Microsoft Office Open XML document format technology to Ecma, including Apple Computer Inc., Barclays Capital of Barclays Bank Plc, BP Plc, the British Library, Intel Corp., Statoil ASA and Toshiba America Inc.

However, Microsoft has released its Patent Protection Covenant for its Office XML formats.

The Redmond, Wash., company also gave Andrew "Andy" Updegrove, "a partner with Gesmer Updegrove LLP, a Boston law firm, and the editor of, an early look at the Covenant. Updegrove was not impressed.

In his evaluation of the Microsoft Covenant, Updegrove compared it with Sun Microsystems Inc.s non-assertion pledge to OASIS in favor of the OpenDocument format.

Updegrove said, "The upshot is that the Sun covenant is far superior in several important respects to the Microsoft pledge."

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read what analysts and senior Microsoft XML technology developers think about the move to open Office XML document format.

Jean Paoli, co-inventor of XML and a Microsoft senior developer, contends that Microsoft hopes "to create an open standard that will enable customers, technology providers and developers around the globe to work with the Office Open XML formats without barriers, with or without Microsoft products."

Thats because Sun places its covenant more under the control of OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards), whereas Microsoft is the sole authority on its Covenant and what it will cover in the future.

That said, "It is important to note that both of these covenants suffer from a common failing, which is that, as between the patent owner (Microsoft or Sun) and an actual implementer, there is no well-funded White Knight to swoop in to defend the small ISV. Similarly, there is no commitment to make the same covenant binding on someone that might buy the patent (the same problem relates to standards generally)," said Updegrove.

Next Page: Weighing Microsofts motives.