Microsoft's Patents, Under The Microscope - InformationWeek
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4/24/2008
11:45 AM
Serdar Yegulalp
Serdar Yegulalp
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Microsoft's Patents, Under The Microscope

Microsoft's whole Catch-22 of Linux infringing on certain patents claimed by them has gone on long enough.  We all know this -- but barring some major (and I do mean major) changes on Microsoft's side, it's looking fairly futile to expect them to come out and say what the infringing patents are.  Time to bring in some third-party muscle, and that's what Tom Kemp of Centrify has just attempted to do.

Microsoft's whole Catch-22 of Linux infringing on certain patents claimed by them has gone on long enough.  We all know this -- but barring some major (and I do mean major) changes on Microsoft's side, it's looking fairly futile to expect them to come out and say what the infringing patents are.  Time to bring in some third-party muscle, and that's what Tom Kemp of Centrify has just attempted to do.

Centrify makes Active Directory auditing and access control software that works on multiple platforms, so it's plain that it has a vested interest in learning as much as possible about Microsoft's protocols and patent assertions.  In a lengthy and detailed blog post named "Mapping Microsoft Windows Server Protocols to Patents," Kemp talks a bit about the history of Microsoft's recent steps toward openness, and about how in some ways this openness may make things worse, not better:

Now that the protocols were posted and Microsoft had articulated its position vis-à-vis protocols and patents, one immediate issue came to my mind: how does a developer easily know which specific protocols really do leverage patents that Microsoft holds? If you look at the "cover page" of each protocol on MDSN, each one does have a generic "this may contain IP" warning, but they don't tell you which specific protocols leverage specific patents that Microsoft holds.

To that end, Kemp did a bit of digging and created an Excel spreadsheet (yes, Excel, the irony is not lost on me) that attempts to map specific patent applications to Microsoft protocols.  It makes for fascinating reading, to say the least, although Kemp does stress that none of this information is guaranteed to be accurate -- just that it's based on his own best guesses and research.

People have asked me before: if Microsoft's attitude about patents has been so insular, why not simply write them off and go our own merry (open source) way?  The answer is that it isn't that easy in the real world, where there exists a market for products, open source or otherwise, that interoperate with MS's solutions.  And until Microsoft decides to quit playing patent games once and for all, research like this will come in handy.  Kudos, Tom.

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