Microsoft: We won't sue over future OOXML versions

The software giant has made assurances that a pledge not to sue developers using OOXML will apply to future version of the document format
Written by Suzanne Tindal, Contributor

Microsoft has assured coders that its Open Specification Promise — a pledge that it won't sue developers using OOXML — will apply to future versions of the document format.

Oliver Bell, Microsoft Asia-Pacific regional technology officer, wrote on his blog: "As long as Microsoft participates in the revision process to completion, Microsoft irrevocably commits to apply the OSP [Open Specification Promise] to that future version of IS29500 [the OOXML specification]."

"There were concerns the OSP would only apply to existing file formats," Sarah Bond, Microsoft's platform strategy manager, said.

The Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) recently warned that patent protections would only cover current, not future, versions of the specification, drawing attention to Microsoft's wording of the OSP: "New versions of previously covered specifications will be separately considered for addition to the list."

Linux Australia president Stewart Smith said Microsoft's announcement has helped to allay fears over one issue that the SLFC raised but did not deal with its biggest concern: that the OSP-covered specifications are not compatible with the General Public License (GPL).

"Can we write software and can we use that code freely?" Smith asked.

Microsoft product manager Gray Knowlton responded to GPL concerns on his blog: "As far as we are concerned, we are happy to extend the OSP to implementers who distribute their code under any copyright licence, including the GPL. The [OSP] FAQ just states what everyone knows and acknowledges: the GPL is a copyright licence that is drafted in a way that leaves many issues (not just those related to patent rights) open to many interpretations. Any particular user or implementer should read the GPL carefully and make their own judgement about what it means and requires in accordance with their own circumstances."

The wording also left open the issue of whether, if Microsoft no longer wanted to use the standard in the future, developers could still use it, Linux Australia's Smith said. "You could see why Microsoft would limit it to versions they participate in," he said. "What would happen if Microsoft decided to stop participating and other people continued?"

Microsoft's Bond said there is a lot of caution in the community but that Microsoft would embrace recommendations. "[Interoperability is] a requirement across the industry," she said, saying it is in Microsoft's interests to promote it. "To not do so would be damaging," she continued.

The experiences the developers and Microsoft have together in open-source laboratories and projects — Microsoft is setting up support forums and laboratories manned with software experts to make sure third-party implementations of its intellectual property are achieving the best results — will move towards easing the caution, she said.

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