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05.11.09

On Microsoft’s Software Patents and ODF Fragmentation

Posted in Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Open XML, OpenDocument, OpenOffice, Patents at 5:22 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

“We should design some of our extensions explicitly so that IBM can’t run them under OS/2. We need to put real thinking into this.”

Bill Gates [PDF]

MICROSOFT’S INCURSIONS INTO ODF have made a lot of headlines recently because they cause more harm than good to ODF; they fragment it, as usual. Previous posts on this subject can be read chronologically in the following order:

  1. Microsoft’s ODF ‘Support’ is a Scam
  2. Embrace, Extend, and Microsoft Wants to Toss IBM Out of ODF
  3. Microsoft Fragments ODF While Trying to Paint it as “IBM Thing”
  4. Microsoft ‘Patents’ ODF Whilst Also Harming It
  5. ODF Alliance to Denounce Microsoft This Week?
  6. Reader’s Article: The Microsoft Patent Threat to ODF

As it shows above, the most recent debate revolves around software patents, which Bill Gates planned to use against OpenOffice.org. In relation to Microsoft's Costa Rica patent, one reader tells us:

That “single file” phrase is the clue. Sounds like the same patent that was denied in the U.S. and South Africa. As I recall, it was approved in New Zealand. I don’t know whether that’s been undone or not.

While it’s possible and conformant to create an ODF document as a single flat file, that isn’t the way ODF is implemented in all the major apps. A zip container is used to store a series of separate files that make up the document, each containing a different type of data.

The Microsoft patent application was ridiculous in terms of prior art. In essence, what was claimed is the creation of a compound document in a single flat file. A compound document is a document that combines different markup specifications in a single document. There was nothing novel about doing compound documents in a single flat file. E.g., the world has been embedding CSS in HTML files for many years. And as far as claiming originality because it’s done with XML, we have familiar examples like CSS embedded in HTML.

There are so many markup standards out there combined to create compound documents that the world just laughed when that patent application surfaced. The USPTO found no novelty in the claims.

At this stage it’s proabably worth adding that the Gartner Group, which was corrupted by Microsoft, is still sort of promoting Microsoft’s patents publicly, just as it did before. Here is a Gartner analyst lobbying for software patents pretty much by questioning the stance of Free softwarers on this matter. Free software obviously does not pay Gartner’s wages, so even In Re Bilski did excite Gartner all that much:

For those who thought that Bilski closed the door on business method and software patents I’d suggest that there still some way to go on the issue.

Returning to office suites, Microsoft employees (and their familiar friends) can still be seen publicly chatting about ODF, but their personal attacks on IBM’s Weir get no sympathy, not even from the most moderate among observers.

For those of us who have been following the Great Document Format Wars, Gray is being disingenous. To a large extent, ODF has come as far as it has because of Rob’s (and other ODF TC members) fantastic work on it.

As for personal venom, it takes two to tango. Microsoft is certainly no blooming lily where personal attacks are concerned. After all, it takes two parties to build a healthy working relationship. On this, Gray cannot place the blame solely on Rob’s shoulders.

Given how ODF has flourished under Rob’s leadership, there doesn’t seem to be any meritorious reason for him to vacate the Chair.

This whole confrontation is not over yet. The problems which Microsoft has introduced in the market due to Service Pack 2 have yet to show their full impact.

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