Microsoft has taken yet-another step down the open source incline with what it calls its Open Specification Promise, a vow not to assert its patent rights on open Web service specifications.
The decision has importance beyond the Web. As we've noted here at ZDNet, the patents are at the heart of the communication standards for Vista, the next version of Windows.
The corporate patent rush in software has been going on for a decade, and Microsoft's decision is also an admission that the rush was, in some ways, misplaced. It was necessary for defensive reasons, to keep basic technologies out of the hands of patent trolls. But as an offensive weapon, something to be used in extracting rents from other big companies or the wider user community, software patents just don't work.
Copyright and trademarks, the traditional protections sought for software, still hold. But the terms of those copyrights are now seen as negotiable with the market, thanks to open source. And the community contribution given to a copyrighted project depends heavily on those conditions.
On that point, the negotiation will continue.