Summary: A look at some issues where Microsoft walks among patents and uses their enforcement to pursue its own goals
LAST month we showed that Microsoft helps MPEG LA (patents cartel/pool), notably at the expense of patents- and royalty-free formats. It is possible that the maze of patents makes video/audio compression as a whole unsafe from infringement (where software patents apply) and BetaNews argues that it is challenging because Microsoft tried in vain.
Google may face legal challenges if it open-sources VP8 codec
But there’s already historical precedent for a company attempting to offer a royalty-free license for a codec whose underlying technologies it didn’t completely own. In 2005, Microsoft offered its WMV9 technologies as the royalty-free standard VC-1. As Microsoft soon discovered, WMV9 was not “patent-free” outside of Microsoft, and its underlying technologies were not royalty-free either. Today, Microsoft’s service agreement on VC-1 includes a notice saying, among other things, that AVC — one of the bedrock encoding technologies claimed by other rights holders — may be used in the VC-1 codec, under a license granted to Microsoft by MPEG LA. That license covers Microsoft when it, in turn, licenses the use of VC-1′s three essential encoding technologies, for non-commercial purposes.
This almost gives the impression that Microsoft did the right thing, but as always, it requires modest understanding of Microsoft’s motives. Microsoft — unlike the W3C for example — is a profit-driven business. The same goes for Microsoft’s use of its new power in the W3C [1, 2]. Not so long ago Microsoft was trying to push DRM for webfonts into the W3C. Apparently it was not accepted because we have not heard about it since, but Microsoft boosters and others speak about Microsoft sponsoring a new Web font standard.
With a surprise boost from Microsoft, the promise of rich typography on the Web just got a big step closer to reality.
The software company’s involvement emerged Monday with sponsorship of a newer effort at the World Wide Web Consortium to standardize Web-based fonts with technology called the Web Open Font Format (WOFF).
Whose methods will be used? It is possible that Microsoft will try to advance its own way of doing things. We don’t know yet, but we saw that before. There’s HD and the JPEG thing, where Microsoft tried to impose its own implementation upon the standard. Similarly, Microsoft tried to make WMV9 ‘the standard’ (WM is Windows Media), so this whole codec anecdote was not an act of charity.
Speaking of Microsoft and software patents, Likewise, which is former Microsoft staff that stuffs Samba with Microsoft’s software patents and then sells it [1, 2, 3, 4], is hooking up with HP, which charges a premium on GNU/Linux (presumably for patents, although that’s speculative excepting Likewise’s relationship with Microsoft).
These HP StorageWork servers will use Likewise-CIFS, a high-performance, commercially supported, Windows-compatible file server, and Likewise Identity Service. Likewise-CIFS started as a commercially supported Samba but is now a CIFS (Common Internet File System) server in its own right. Likewise Identity Service is an Active Directory bridge technology providing authentication of non-Windows systems to Microsoft’s Active Directory.
Likewise is like an extension of Microsoft and it makes a dangerous precedence because of software patents (complying with Microsoft and overriding Samba, whose special and exclusive deal with the Commission has this loophole). It’s almost as though Microsoft had Likewise created by its people to promote software patents in/and Microsoft protocols.