Microsoft criticised for IP address configuration patent

Microsoft criticised for IP address configuration patent

Summary: Update :The software giant has come under fire for 'yet another example of how patents can kill or inhibit standards'

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TOPICS: Networking
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An organisation that campaigns for the reform of the patent system criticised Microsoft on Wednesday for filing a patent with a claimed similarity to the address auto-configuration mechanism of IPv6, the next-generation Internet protocol.

The Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) claims that a patent that Microsoft filed a few years ago is invalid as it failed to disclose prior work done by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).

The US patent, number 6101499 — titled "Method and computer program product for automatically generating an Internet Protocol (IP) address" — was issued to Microsoft in 2000 after being filed in 1998.

Daniel Ravicher, the executive director of PUBPAT, told ZDNet UK that although he is not worried that Microsoft will assert its right over the patent, this may stop companies from using IPv6.

"Microsoft won't ever assert this patent — they know it's worthless," said Ravicher. "But there will still be people who are afraid of it — if someone has a gun and promises not to shoot it, it's still scary."

"This is yet another example of how patents can kill or inhibit standards," he said.

PUBPAT was made aware of this patent when it was contacted by a "few large companies" which had been told about the patent by Microsoft.

Ravicher claims that a "significant number" of prior art references were not disclosed to the US patent office when Microsoft applied for the patent. These include documents from the IPv6 committee of the IETF, known as RFCs. The Microsoft employees named as the inventors of the patent were on the IPv6 committee, according to Ravicher.

Because Microsoft has allegedly not disclosed the prior art references to the patent office, the patent may not be enforceable.

PUBPAT is now urging Microsoft to throw out the patent. "The right thing for Microsoft to do is to abandon the patent and acknowledge that it should never have been granted in the first place," said Ravicher.

David Kaefer, director of business development in Microsoft's IP and licensing group, said that Microsoft was examining PUBPAT's allegations.

"We're not sure if the patent relates to the IPv6 specification. We're going back to see if any claim in the patent is specifically related to IPv6," said Kaefer. "There are over 150 issued patent applications related to IPv6. Microsoft seeking to patent a portion of this is very consistent with the behaviour of a lot of companies."

This news comes only a week after Microsoft demanded reform of the US patent system. Brad Smith, general counsel for the company, said at the time that there need to be an improvement in patent quality.

Topic: Networking

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6 comments
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  • I can see now how software patents will help the EU to become an IT industry (and market) by the end of 2010 that the rest of the world should take example from. Not!
    anonymous
  • That should say IPv4-like, since this patent concerns only IPv4, not IPv6. It should also mention that Microsoft specifically revealed this patent to the IETF (the Internet Engineering Task Force) about in August 2000, and it has been on prominent public display ever since.

    Since no links or other supporting evidence is presented concerning PUBPAT's accusations it's natural for a reader like myself to assume that an incompetent or fraudulent journalist at ZDnet invented the entire thing to meet their daily word count and get an early start at the bar.

    Obviously a correction must be uploaded at the first possible opportunity, and perhaps ZDnet should take the opportunity to review fact-checking procedures. If PUBPAT's quotes in this article are correct, it would have been appropriate for ZDnet to attempt to verify them with Microsoft or IETF representatives. If the quotes are made up too, the journalist ought not to have a desk to come back to when they get back from the bar.
    anonymous
  • Another reason to not adopt software patents in the EU.
    anonymous
  • Whats wrong with this...?

    Read the actual patent claim (again) and come back with why this shouldn
    anonymous
  • The given link to "www.freepatentsonline.com" only says "an IP address". There is no distinction mentioned between an IPv4 address and an IPv6 address. Therefore I believe the concern is justified.
    anonymous
  • This predates IPv6! The scheme in question was designed in the 1980s for the OSI Network Layer, and was in DECnet Phase V. Before that, DECnet Phase IV created Ethernet addresses out of network addresses -- the scheme in reverse.

    In Phase V, the MAC address was used as the low order, and the network-specific stuff was in the Initial Domain Part and the high order Domain Specific Part. IPv6 took the idea, though it turned out to be a security risk to expose the MAC address that way. No wonder Microsoft wants to pretend they invented it.
    anonymous