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9/16/2004
09:11 PM
Barbara Darrow
Barbara Darrow
Commentary
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Mr. Phelps' Microsoft Mission?

Will the man who turned IBM's patent porfolio into a treasure chest lead Microsoft's assault on OpenOffice.

The fact that Microsoft has been building a patent war chest has long been of interest and concern to competitors and customers. Some viewed the Sun-Microsoft detente last spring as a sign that the two companies would bury their own potential disputes over Office vs. StarOffice.

Not so, as reported by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

According to a Sun filing to the SEC, Microsoft has reserved the right to sue over Office-related intellectual property (IP) matters.

A month or so ago, a large Microsoft customer told CRN he fully expected an IP battle to erupt around Office, Microsoft's cash cow. He pointed out that Marshall Phelps, the man credited with turning IBM's patent trove into a treasure chest, moved to Microsoft in June 2003.

"My prediction is there will be a very strong assault on OpenOffice. Microsoft will assert its patent portfolio," this IT exec noted. He also felt the small print in the Sun-Microsoft deal might immunize Sun (and StarOffice) from such an attack. Not so, according to the Sun documents.

For his part, Phelps has tried to convince the world that Microsoft will not turn its patent portfolio into an arsenal.

For more on Phelps' Microsoft tenure, see The Register.

Meanwhile, details on Sun-Microsoft's collaboration continue to trickle out. InformationWeek reports that the first deliverables of single sign-on capability will surface next month.

Stay tuned.

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