Microsoft and patent claims: 'Business as usual'?

Microsoft and patent claims: 'Business as usual'?

Summary: Bill Hilf, Microsoft's General Manager of Platform Strategy, has finally blogged about Microsoft's decision to go public with its claims that it has found 235 patent violations by open source software on various Microsoft products. Hilf's contention: Nothing's changed. It's business as usual.


Bill Hilf, Microsoft's General Manager of Platform Strategy, has finally blogged about Microsoft's decision to go public with its claims that it has found 235 patent violations by open source software on various Microsoft products.

"Our IP strategy has not changed," said Hilf and Microsoft's head of the company's open-source-software lab, Sam Ramji, in a blog posting dated May 18. "Where we have unique and valuable intellectual property (as indicated by our high scores on the science strength of our patents) we will seek to license it to commercial entities (such as Samsung and Fuji Xerox).

"It’s not us versus the free world. It’s about commercial companies working together around IP issues – it’s business as usual," the pair added.

Hilf and Ramji reiterated that Microsoft has no current intentions to sue its customers, partners or competitors.

So why go public with an alleged number of violations? Interestingly, Hilf and Ramji don't mention the looming GPL v3 as the impetus for Microsoft's latest saber-rattling -- even though Microsoft's own public-relations team did. Instead, Hilf told IDG News Service (IDGNS) in an interview late last week that the decision to share the numbers was motivated by a call for "more transparency."

Check out this exchange:

"IDGNS: In hindsight, do you think it was a good idea for Microsoft to release the number of patents it believes are being infringed?"

"Hilf: What we heard back after the Novell deal was 'Give us more transparency. You say that there is IP involved, give us an understanding of what that is.' So the attempt was that if we give a number and category of where these things fall, maybe that will help people get an idea of the scope. We are very much calling out to commercial companies to license this stuff and resolve these issues. This isn't like a trivial invention. There are a couple hundred significant patents here."

Hilf also told IDG News Servcie he was aware that Microsoft was going to go public with the alleged number of patent violations before the Fortune Magazine story ran. If this is true, I'm kind of surprised Hilf waited until a full week after the damage was done to post to the Port 25 blog his claim that nothing had changed for Microsoft vis-a-vis the open-source community.

Microsoft is holding an Open Source ISV (Independent Software Vendor) forum on May 21, just before the Open Source Business Conference kicks off this week. Let's see this week if Microsoft's open-source partners back Hilf's claim that it's all business as usual ....

Topics: Open Source, Legal, Microsoft


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • "transparency"

    The motivation for releasing the "patent numbers" had nothing whatsoever to do with "more transparency".

    It was all about expanding the extortion game.

    Make no mistake, this may be all about using FUD to levy an illegitimate MS tax on FOSS for the moment but MS will inevitably attack as FOSS implementations continue to expand.

    Software patents will be the undoing of the US software business. The rest of the world is smart enough to see the destructiveness of such a scheme.
    Tim Patterson
    • Correct

      And thats a real danger for the US software industry, if Microsoft is successful in the US it's likely the rest of the World will still carry on with Linux and Open Source development as normal, as US Patent law doesn't extend outside your borders.

      The US would become a marginalised Windows only ghetto.
      • I don't think that is correct

        It would not stop Linux in the U.S. In fact, they would build around any violation, if any existed and more than likely come out with better ideas in the long run. Just because Microsoft is based in the U.S. doesn't mean the rest of the world isn't using it just as heavily. The EU, China on and on....using Windows in numbers perhaps higher than the U.S. Just becuase the EC has a stranglehold on business in the EU doesn't diminish the presence of Windows. there are millions upon millions of Windows users in the EU.
        And my guess is the rational of those users are not in line with the EC. If you are from the EU or anywhere outside the U.S., and you post as if the entire EU, for example, is 100% percent behind the EC's decisions, you are being very misleading. There are just as many people in the EU that want the government to keep it's hands off as there are in the U.S. in all liklihood. The EU, when mentioned here on zdnet, in this context, only refers to the government and it's monopoly on law (not elected btw), the EC, and those that back the EC. My sense is like here in the U.S., that's a minority of the population at large.
        • Microsoft's patents are not valid in Europe

          In the EU, you are free to use any software that you want to. Software patents are not recognized, so you can use Linux without fear of being sued by Microsoft or being forced to pay Microsoft for software that they didn't write.

          I doubt that anyone in the EU wished that they could pay Microsoft a fee for using Linux or Open Office. On the software patent issue, I would suspect that a vast majority of citizens of the EU are fully behind the government.
          • I'm speaking in terms of Microsoft.

            There is no less enthusiasm for Microsoft in the EU. I'm not sure how the millions there that are dedicated to Windows and Microsoft products feel about Microsoft being continually fined by the EC etc. Must be a bit tough to know your technology of choice is under attack from your government with the intent of of bringing it down. The EU is an entire continent. It was more of a business merger than anything.
          • We feel the same as anyone else would

            when a company breaks the law and our elected Government takes action to bring the rogue company to justice.
          • Ok Bob.

            I guess when you speak, you speak for the entire continent. Good to know you see things that helps me gauge your posts. <br> <br>
            Bob says it and....Bob's your Uncle.
        • I don't know where you are getting your facts from ,

          but China is moving away from Windows and embracing Linux . Even the US Navy gave Microsoft the boot and is now using Linux .
          • US Navy and Windows

            Must have been that guided missile destroyer contolled by Windows 2000 that did it, how many times was it towed back to port lmao!
          • Only once actually

            Win 2k crippled the whole boat so badly that they where in danger of loosing mouse and boat :) I guess that hitting the universal ctrl-alt del did not do the trick ;) the boat apparently got re-equipped with a Unix box that solved the whole problem.

          • I don't know where you are getting your

            statements from. China has so many pirated version of windows in use it's impossible to count them all. <br>
            And I'm happy for the what? I never said MS should have every user, organization or business in the world. I haven't read about it, so I can't validate to what extent they did anything but in any case, that's great.
          • thats not the problem

            the real issue is that M$ has a goal of removing all competitors thus not realizing that competition is actually good for them, sharing information was actually what got M$ started in the first place, if my memory serves me right they got their first OS by digging in the rubbish bin, now THAT is open source :)
          • You've got your eye on the wrong company

            Google is by far the most monopolistic, aggressive and pushes the envelope of the law as much as possible. <br>
            I'm not sure where you think MS gets the magic power to remove competition illegally. They have a market share but what else? What more do people want? The rhetoric and lies and campaigns form teh open source will not subside until the own the desktop, that has been made clear. They realized they can't do it with technology, so they've now got Google, Apple, IBM, SUN and others giving them a boost. if it had not been for major corporate backing of linux, it would still be in the dark ages.
            I'm sorry, i'm sure you weren't trying to be a full out MS hater, or even if you were, but who really cares how Microsoft got started? How did SUN get started? Do you know the answer to that one?
        • EU delegates not elected?

          "The EU, when mentioned here on zdnet, in this context, only refers to the government and it's monopoly on law (not elected btw)"

          Strange I must have been delusional last time I voted for our EU parliamnetry candidates:

          "Citizens of EU member states are also EU citizens: they directly elect the European Parliament, once every five years."

          Guess you want us to hold "free and fair elections" like the one that elected Bush?
          • Here, instead of cutting only part of it out

            <i>The EU, when mentioned here on zdnet, in this context, only refers to the government and it's monopoly on law (not elected btw), the EC, and those that back the EC.<br>
            Now try reading it again and you'll see I was talking about the EU's monopoly on law, the <b>EC</b>. As in, the EU has a monopoly on law and it's called the EC. <br>
            Which happens to be true, based on the wikipedia definition. No? EC is not appointed? They are not a monopoly? <br><br>
            Yeah, the Bush election. I think something was up on that one myself. In the U.S. we question authority and government and don't kiss it's a**. I think Bush has been a horrible president, the lowest possible rating should be given. Actually, no, he should be impeached for being so clueless and taking us to war, with the Brits (as you will note) without any end game strategy or consideration if it didn't work. The aircraft carrier thing, most Americans think he was/is an ahole. So what's that got to do with the EC being a monopoly on the law, and that they are not elected?
    • You paint too simple a picture

      [i]"Software patents will be the undoing of the US software business. The rest of the world is smart enough to see the destructiveness of such a scheme."[/i]

      AIUI the Japanese have a patent system very similar to the US and India seems to have a very on-off-on-off approach to software patents so I'm not sure what the position there is at present.

      In Europe we have fought a campaign to stop the European Commission introducing software patents, usually through back-door schemes. The commissioner in charge, Charlie McCreevy is appointed by the Irish government and Ireland has a *lot* of US corporations tax-sheltering in Dublin - Dell, Microsoft, etc. McCreevy seems hell bent on software patenting and a grass-roots campaign has educated the European Parliament about this issue and they have blocked McCreevy. His last attempt tried to bypass the Parliament and was ruled illegal by EU's lawyers. He is rumoured to be cooking up yet another scheme. He has to step down in 2009 and I'm looking forward to seeing the back of him.

      So it is not as simple as it seems. Is McCreevy being driven/pushed by US corporations via Dublin? I don't know. Maybe it is just coincidence. As Einstein once said [i]"Mankind is very stupid, so progress is very slow."[/i]
      • Even so

        The European patent system is a lot more rigerous, the US Patent Officedon't even consider prior art for software patents, or so I hear.
        • Actually...

          ...The Patent Office does, or, at least, is supposed to, consider prior art--patents are basically pointless except in a context of prior art. The problem is that since a patent is supposed to deal with an allegedly novel process by which to solve a particular problem, and in software the scope of potential solutions is <i>vastly</i> wider than it is with hardware, the potential body of prior art--the tonnes of stuff that has to be searched through and examined to find out if there <i>is</i> any relevant prior art--is absolutely huge. The USPTO is just too poorly staffed to do it.

          <p>The problem is that whereas multiple hardware patents dealing with the same area are usually clearly differentiable--there are generally only a relatively few ways to achieve effect <i>X</i>--in software the range of potential solutions is large and less differentiable. The result, it looks to me, is that software patents have come to applied to the effects to be achieved rather than to the processes used to achieve them. It's as if the guy who invented the light bulb got a patent the whole idea of artificial light rather than on the specific means of a low-electrical-resistance filament contained in an evacuated transparent glass enclosure.
          Henry Miller
          • Yes, patents apply to effects in software...

            ... because different code can be created to do the same thing. The thing of value is therefore what the software does and not how it's done.

            If that weren't true, copyright would be sufficient.
            Anton Philidor
          • But then

            people would be granted patent control over code they did not create and which might not even remotely resemble the code they created.

            You're all in trouble, I'm patenting the dictionary!