Microsoft promises to hang patent fire over web services

Microsoft has announced that it will not assert patent claims against those involved in a range of web services standards. The move has been welcomed by the open-source community.

Redmond’s Open Specification Promise (OSP) shows Microsoft’s commitment to ensuring the unencumbered progress of a range of some 35 WS-X web service standards covering security, policy management and communications, regardless of the final specifications of these standards.

The covenant does not and can not include protection against third-party infringements that may or may not occur in the implementation of these standards, as far as Microsoft’s own technology is concerned. Microsoft, however, claims it ‘irrevocably promises not to assert any Microsoft Necessary Claims against you for making, using, selling, offering for sale, importing or distributing any implementation to the extent it conforms to a Covered Specification (“Covered Implementation”).’

No other rights are granted and should you turn round and sue Microsoft over its implementation of the same standards then you forgo that promise.

Even so, this represents a major step in Microsoft’s interoperability efforts. It is a quantum leap forward from its position on the Sender ID fiasco – a joint initiative to come up with an authentication technology to weed out spoofed email. Its technological contribution included patentable code that users would have to licence, making it impossible for open-source software to use.

Similarly, the efforts to which Microsoft has gone to comply with the interoperability provisions of the EC antitrust rulings have also been burdened by licensing issues that prevent GNU GPL-licensed software benefiting.

This move however has met with pretty much unanimous praise, or at least a lack of disparagement, from the open-source community.

Mark Webbink, Deputy General Counsel for Red Hat, said: ‘Red Hat believes that the text of the OSP gives sufficient flexibility to implement the listed specifications in software licensed under free and open source licences. We commend Microsoft’s efforts to reach out to representatives from the open source community and solicit their feedback on this text, and Microsoft’s willingness to make modifications in response to our comments.’

Andrew Updegrove of technology law firm Gesmer Updegrove LLP said: ‘I think that this move should be greeted with approval, and that Microsoft deserves to be congratulated for this action. I hope that the standards affected will only be the first of many that Microsoft, and hopefully other patent owners as well, benefit with similar pledges.’

Lawrence Rosen, a lawyer with Rosenlaw & Einschlag, who has worked extensively with the open-source community said: ‘I see Microsoft’s introduction of the OSP as a good step by Microsoft to further enable collaboration between software vendors and the open source community. This OSP enables the open source community to implement these standard specifications without having to pay any royalties to Microsoft or sign a licence agreement. I’m pleased that this OSP is compatible with free and open source licenses.’

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