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.