Microsoft Says It Is Willing To License All Its IP
Microsoft Says It Is Willing To License All Its IP
By: Maureen O'Gara
Dec. 5, 2003 12:00 AM
Microsoft’s chief counsel Brad Smith got on the blower Wednesday morning and basically threw all of Microsoft’s IP, “100%,” he said, of its patents, trademarks, trade secrets and copyrights, on the table to be picked over and licensed by the industry on both royalty-free and “commercially reasonable” terms like a Macy’s Bargain Basement sale.
Microsoft has, Smith noted, 4,000-odd patents and 5,400 “in the queue.”
Deals will be sorted out on a case-by-case basis.
Naturally such a totally uncharacteristic move after nearly 30 years of corporate protectionism makes the naturally paranoid hunt out ulterior motives, and naturally Microsoft’s oozing sore in Europe comes readily to mind. But Smith, when asked, said the IP on offer didn’t include the additional communications protocols that a Sun-inspired EC wants Microsoft to open up, at least not “directly,” he said, without explaining what that meant.
Maybe Smith is sending the EC a coded message that he’s willing to deal. Microsoft did after all emerge from its antitrust hearing in Europe last month with a new admitted determination to settle and clean up the mess before penalties start being handed out.
Maybe Smith is offering the EC something it didn’t quite ask for, hoping that it’ll abandon the stuff it wants.
Maybe it’s just image polishing and nothing Microsoft hasn’t always done on an unsystematic case-by-case basis.
Maybe – and this will suit the truly paranoid to a “T” – maybe Microsoft is positioning itself to wage nuclear IP war against Linux and open source.
Maybe licensing is just another way of making Microsoft technology the industry standard. An ISV contacted by Microsoft claims it wants its digital rights management widgetry to be the standard and that it’s willing to charge next to nothing for it to make it the standard, something Apache could afford. Supposedly Bill Gates believes the operating system will be negligible in 10 years and content will be king.
Anyway, Smith also claimed that Microsoft’s new liberality really had nothing to do with making a killing, even though Microsoft is using Intel, IBM, Xerox, HP, Philips and Fujitsu as its models in this business and IBM alone makes upwards of a billion dollars a year off its IP.
Nope, Smith described the projected amount of revenues Microsoft would generate from the new program as “immaterial.” Of course, one man’s measly is another man’s gold mine, unless Microsoft intends to make it so hard to license anything that the money collected would be picayune.
Smith also denied – ho, ho, ho – that this shift in historic policy had anything to do with warding off Linux and open source although the ah-shuck posture he assumed for the occasion was pretty hard to swallow. Microsoft, he said, spends $7 billion a year on R&D and, heck, that results in a “lot of IP,” causing Microsoft to ask itself “what to do with it all.”
Smith did admit to getting some “requests” for access and policy “clarifications” from like the government and fellow companies, but the word pressure never passed his lips.
Also uncharacteristic was listening to Microsoft’s lawyers talk about a “holistic approach to IP,” “promoting greater collaboration across the industry” and how “access to and exchange of IP is essential to the growth and development of the broad IT industry” and creating a “win-win situation.” Talk about mom and apple pie.
Smith said Microsoft started “thinking hard” about this drastic turnabout a year ago, realized it “needed to do a couple of things it had not done before,” decided it didn’t have the know-how in-house, hired deputy general counsel Marshall Phelps, who ran IBM’s IP operation, six months ago and sought feedback from 30-odd unidentified companies for inspiration.
As an apparent result of all this caucusing, Microsoft has immediately come up with two new, if modest, IP licensing programs, one for ClearType rendering technology and the other for its File Allocation Table (FAT) file system, along with two new, if modest, respective licensees: Agfa Monotype and Lexar Media.
Smith muttered something about thinking Microsoft had another six potential unnamed licensees on the hook. Suggestively. Borland, VeriSign, Orbiscom, Info2clear and Network Appliance formed the Greek chorus applauding the move.
The industry’s new Mr Nice Guy says the non-commercial academe can have access to all its IP on a royalty-free basis for R&D purposes. Microsoft is apparently anxious to have the schools license IP related to web services like its newly established program offering Office 2003 XML Reference Schemas royalty-free.
The fees charged for commercial licenses are supposed to cleave to “industry norms” and generally the terms will be non-exclusive.
Phelps is the man to see. He’s managing Microsoft’s portfolio and licenses. Potential licensees should send proposals or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Specify trademark or copyright in the subject line.
Otherwise see Microsoft.com/mscorp/ip to keep up with Microsoft’s anticipated new licensing programs, guidelines and terms.
The site says Microsoft’s new policy does indeed have some limitations and that the company “will retain some of its trademarks solely for use on Microsoft products and services,” but that that doesn’t mean the rest, for instance, aren’t available for “product line extensions, private labeling, compatibility and technology licensing logos, merchandizing, sponsorships, publishing arrangements and trade show licenses.”
It also says that Microsoft generally won’t license patents, including design patents, that differentiate the appearance of Microsoft products and services. It can refuse to license certain IP or presumably not license it if it, oh, doesn’t like the way you part your hair although it claims it won’t discriminate and that its source code access program for developers will be expanded to competitive platforms. Program Ts&Cs are also supposed to be the same for everybody.
It says it will mimic the royalty-free and RAND policies of standards bodies that have accepted its technology for standardization.
By the way, Microsoft is planning on licensing its clip art to book publishers and others.
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