It did last week, when it said it "irrevocably promises" not to sue a developer for patent infringement for using any of 35 critical Web service standards, such as Soap and WSDL, to which it has contributed technology. The relief that brought is a sign of how jumpy developers are about being sued--and how truly strange the software patent world has become.
"That's the kind of language we want to see in the open source world," says Brian Behlendorf, one of the developers of the Apache Web server and now CTO at CollabNet, which makes collaborative development software.
Open source developers fret they could pour years of work into a project only to have a major company claim a patent on a key component.
Microsoft doesn't give away all the power of any Web services patents. (It applied for 3,000 patents last year and likely will match that this year.) A developer who participates in a patent action against Microsoft loses the pledge's protection. In that sense, the promise is another manifestation of the patent arms race that encourages large companies to get as many patents as possible--even if only for self-defense.