As SOA and Web services march forward, the threat of patent lawsuits has loomed (and fortunately has stayed, so far) in the background. As I reported last week, Gartner's Andrew White sounded the alarm about potential legal landmines that could disrupt efforts to integrate enterprise systems.
Some vendors are getting the message, and are publicly issuing promises not to act on Web services patents that they hold. Now, open source legal expert Andy Updegrove reports that Microsoft has just issued such a pledge, promising "not to assert" any claims to 35 Web services patents it holds. These aren't arcane processes, either, as they include the WS-* specifications that Microsoft has jointly developed and supported with IBM and BEA over the years, as well as the key standards of Web services, such as SOAP and WSDL. (CNET's Martin LaMonica also provides details on Microsoft's announcement here.)
Updegrove says the pledge is very similar to Microsoft's covenant not to assert patents that it issued last year with respect to its Office 2003 XML Reference Schema.
"Those changes are to clarify that the promise not to assert any relevant patents extends to everyone in the distribution chain of a product, from the original vendor through to the end user, and to clarify that the promise covers a partial as well as a full implementation of a standard."
Microsoft even consulted with the open source community on the wording of the covenant, Updegrove said.
Microsoft's pledge is posted here. Some of the covered specifications are listed at the bottom of this post.Such news is very encouraging. As many of us here in ZDNet's bloggers row repeatedly point out, the US patent system is broken, and is ripe for abuse by patent trolls. Solutions run to the extremes. Tom Foremski recently posted one viewpoint here, in which a legal professor urges an end to all software patents; and Dana Blankenhorn posts the views of Sun's Simon Phipps here, which urges a more rational and reasoned patent-granting process, as was originally intended.
But there is hope. And, vendors recognize that it is in their best business interest to allow interoperability based on open standards to go forward. To try to lawyer up and stand in the way of this progress invites the wrath and ire of your customer base, as well as any future customers. Microsoft certainly doesn't need any more wrath from the market.
In January of this year, IBM had pledged to release 500 technology patents to the development community, for free, with no strings attached. Likewise, Novell had stealthily acquired the Web services patents of the failed dot-bomb CommerceOne, assuring that they get locked away from patent trolls.
Microsoft's pledge covers the following specifications:
- WS-RM Policy
- Remote Shell Web Services Protocol
- WS-Security: Kerberos Binding
- WS-Security: SOAP Message Security
- WS-Security: UsernameToken Profile
- WSDL 1.1 Binding Extension for SOAP 1.2
- WS-Security: X.509 Certificate Token Profile
- SOAP 1.1 Binding for MTOM 1.0
- WS-Federation Active Requestor Profile
- SOAP MTOM / XOP
- WS-Federation Passive Requestor Profile
- WS-Management Catalog
- WS-I Basic Profile
- Web Single Sign-On Interoperability Profile
- Web Single Sign-On Metadata Exchange Protocol