Doing the Microsoft patent math

Just over a year ago, Microsoft officials threw down the patent gauntlet, claiming free and open-source software violated 235 of its patents -- but refused (and continue to refuse) to get more specific. Today, thanks to a post by my ZDNet blogging colleague Jason Perlow, there's a new piece of patent info that should be of interest to those trying to keep score at home.

Just over a year ago, Microsoft officials threw down the patent gauntlet, claiming free and open-source software violated 235 of its patents -- but refused (and continue to refuse) to get more specific. Today, thanks to a post by my ZDNet blogging colleague Jason Perlow, there's a new piece of patent info that should be of interest to those trying to keep score at home.

Last year, Microsoft officials said Linux violated 42 Microsoft patents; Linux GUIs (graphical user interfaces) violated 65; Open Office violated 45; various free/open e-mail programs violated another 15; and assorted, sundry free/open-source software programs violated 68 Microsoft patents. That is as granular as the Redmondians were willing to get.

Today, thanks to a very in-depth analysis by Tom Kemp, CEO of Linux/Unix independent software vendor Centrify, there's a bit more detail on what Microsoft has patented in the Windows space. Using patent information Microsoft was required to make public by the antitrust watchers with the European Commission, Kemp counted how many Windows Server patents Microsoft has applied for and been awarded.

Among Kemp's findings:

  • "Of the 125 protocols posted on MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) for Windows Server, 99 of the 125 protocols have no US patents associated with them, meaning 80% of the Windows server protocols do not have US patents associated with them." (My note: In other words, 20% are patented.)
  • "Factoring in protocols that also don't have any US patent applications, 76 of the 125 protocols don't have any US patents or US patent applications associated with them (60%), meaning 49 of the 125 (40%) do have US patents or US patent applications."
  • This is just a subset of what's patented in Windows. "The protocols posted for Windows Server apply to file and print, user and group administration and networking transport features only, not Windows Server features such as IIS. The WSPP (Workgroup Server Protocol Program) protocols also have approximately 25 European Union patents and patent applications."
  • There are another 50 unique U.S. patents, "in my estimation as of 4/18/2008 the Microsoft Windows OS from a client perspective (all features)."

Remember: In spite of all the "we want to be open and interoperable" rhetoric, Microsoft is making its patented protocols available for licensing, not for free. So this is just a taste of what software vendors would need to pay to license if they want to incorporate any Microsoft patented protocols in their commercial wares.

I wonder how many of the patents that Kemp documented are ones that Microsoft believes Linux and open-source to violate. That would be an interesting map....