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09.04.09

Software Patents Do Not Apply to Microsoft

Posted in Free/Libre Software, Microsoft, Office Suites, Open XML, OpenDocument, OpenOffice, Patents at 6:51 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Feuding cups

Summary: Microsoft shakes off the ban on Word and is meanwhile occupied with illegalising Free software globally

TO PUT a twist on the old saying, “what Microsoft wants Microsoft gets.” Given sufficient leverage over the legal system and industry, there is almost nothing that an army of lobbyists cannot achieve very quickly. As expected, Microsoft managed to dodge the Word ban (MSBBC report) and apart from other UK-based publications we were able to find some disinformation. The following legal report, for instance, makes the incorrect assertion that ODF is impacted.

This work was widely interpreted as an effort to forestall adoption of competing formats, such as the Open Document Format, and concerns were raised about whether the Office XML format was severely encumbered by the company’s patents. Despite these fears, Microsoft ultimately saw its efforts succeed. A recently granted patent, however, reveals that the entire effort took place while Microsoft had a patent pending that covers nearly any use of XML for storing word processing documents.

How did the concessions come about? We wrote about the forces at play just over a week ago. The Department of Justice (DOJ), which is filled with former RIAA lawyers, has a role in it. No wonder priorities at the DOJ have turned against the people.

The situation with OOXML is actually worth further exploration too. In relation to another matter, our reader Ryan points out that “people understand that to some degree, it’s why OOXML and WMA aren’t exactly runaway hits with anyone that Microsoft hasn’t leaned on [...] but there are always a few out there that just save to whatever format the program defaults to and then get mad when you’re using, say, Office 2003, and it can’t understand Office 2007 XML [....] it’s not new, Microsoft has been doing that to force upgrades since at least Office 97.”

“There are always a few who always think everything that comes out of Microsoft is god’s own work and perfect as it is,” adds MinceR.

Ryan responds by saying: “I’d say their formats are spread more through ignorance on the part of the user than anyone who intentionally set out to use them. Microsoft is dumping the “back to school” laptops — all have Office 2007 Home and Student Edition on them for free. Microsoft is so desperate to spread OOXML that they’re giving away free copies of it on Best Buy laptops til next month I believe it was.”

Microsoft’s variant of OOXML is a patents-encumbered format and Microsoft is meanwhile working to spread software patents to the rest of the world through so-called “harmonisation” (like the one McCreevy raves about endlessly). Stuart Johnston, a pro-Microsoft journalist, is defending Microsoft’s position, whereas Masnick at TechDirt calls it a “bad idea”.

We’ve already seen that in “harmonizing” copyrights thanks to the Berne Convention that it’s been made much more difficult for countries to correct mistakes (or even admit mistakes) with overly aggressive copyright laws. In fact, it’s created a situation where the only direction copyright law seems to go is towards stronger protection — almost always under claims of a need to “live up to international treaties.” If we created a single global patent system, you’d have that problem on steroids. Rather than being able to experiment and cut back on the excesses and problems of the patent system, the entire world would be stuck with a single system, and any changes to the regulations would be driven by those who benefit most from being able to abuse such monopoly rights.

One person has opined that the ACTA [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14] may be means of facilitating such “harmonisation”. TechDirt has another long article about how India and China should respond to intellectual monopolies now that the likes of WIPO use them as a suppressor of progress in such emerging economies and largely-populated nations.

The continued development of the knowledge economies in both China and India requires thoughtful, practical policies that will give the needed incentive and capacity to innovators while providing benefits to as many as possible. In contrast to the beliefs of many, further strengthened intellectual property rights are unlikely to provide a positive impact on the economies of China and India. Instead, the two emerging giants should dedicate maximum attention to the other ingredients of a knowledge economy while structuring, to every extent possible under international treaty obligations, their domestic intellectual property regime to provide the optimum balance between incentives and access, bearing in mind that to diffuse the gains from existing innovations, the latter is to be favored.

In summary, Microsoft has proven that is can still get away with serious and deliberate patent infringement [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10] while it is also harming the patent systems worldwide.

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