Microsoft wins geek praise
With News Corp. handling the evil empire role, Microsoft has gone kinder and gentler, yesterday making an "Open Specification Promise" that was widely praised in the open source development community. The details are fairly technical and arcane, but it boils down to this: In the context of 35 software projects (or standards "specifications") for which Microsoft hopes to rally market support, Redmond has agreed not to enforce any of the relevant patents it owns against software developers who build on Microsoft's code and ideas to enhance or complement the specifications.

The promise moves Microsoft in the direction of open source development, where many parties can contribute to software that no single party owns. Writing from the Microsoft campus, tech blogger Doc Searls crows: "This is original and well-intended work by honorable people who really want the whole market to work, and not just for one company to muscle everybody else. It's also a beginning. Times are a-changing." On Slashdot, Andy Updegrove writes that the move is "all part of a recent wave of such pledges made by companies such as IBM, Nokia, and Oracle, and a significant shift in how Microsoft is dealing with open standards."

Bravo, respond most Slashdot readers, though one open promise does not a lifetime of skepticism erase: Another Slashdotter wonders, "So, can somebody tell me why you would have a patent if you are not going to enforce it? Pay no attention to the Patent Lawyers behind the curtains...." Thinking that sounded pretty reasonable, The Browser querried Nicholas Varchaver, our in-house patent expert (see: "Who's afraid of Nathan Myhrvold?,") who fired back some off-the-cuff insight: "There is a very basic - and common - reason to have a patent, even if you have no attention of enforcing it vs. other people/companies. Having that patent allows you to prevent others from enforcing it against you." In short, by having the patents and then making its promise, Microsoft would indeed by clearing a certain market segment of any legal obstacles to innovation.
Posted by Oliver Ryan 10:03 AM 0 Comments comment | Add a Comment

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