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Examples of Microsoft suing over a patent?


I'm seeing several articles lately about Microsoft and patents.  Actually, the Redmond patent collection has been the source of much fear and loathing for several years.  Every conversation about Mono, for example, includes someone who is afraid that Microsoft will enforce some patents and invalidate the work.

All this talk has got me wondering.  When has Microsoft ever sued somebody over a patent?  I can think of several examples where Microsoft was the defendant in a patent case, but none where they were the plaintiff.

I'm probably overlooking an obvious example, but I just can't think of one.  Anybody else?

Eric Sink
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Maybe Microsoft doesn't patent anything worth stealing?

chris
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Wasn't there something about  a kid who registered a website that had an URL similar to www.microsoft.com?

RP
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Yeah, MikeRoweSoft.com.

Wants to be an ISV
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

If a kid carries a gun to school, the historical precedent of them not previously shooting someone is little consolation -- historically they weren't threatened and had no need to, but one day they may find themselves desperate so they resort to using the big gun. That's the fear with Microsoft and its patent portfolio.

In the past Microsoft couldn't count the money as fast as it was coming in, but in recent years they've actually had losses in their most important divisions, billions have gone to lawsuits, their brief opportunity at big iron seems to be fading away, customers have little reason to upgrade, the development pipe has gotten pretty empty, etc.

.
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Which year did you have in mind in which a "most important division" showed a loss?

Eric Lippert
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

The Mike Rowe case was a trademark infringement, and not a patent issue.

The probable reason they don't do too much is that it's not worth their while financially or politically.  If there ever comes a case where it is, rest assured they'll respond.

Walt
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

http://www.advogato.org/article/101.html

No need to actually sue; A threat from Microsoft is enough to make almost every company or lone developer abort whatever project they were undertaking.

I remember there was at least one more case, but I'm still waiting for that memory to page-in ......

Ploni Almoni
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

A $204 million loss, coupled with a one-time $650 million cost to take care of its employees (buying out underwater stock options - kind of like an inverse Enron)... seems to me like the unit outperformed on revenues (I know it's more complicated than that, but it doesn't look as bad as it seems)

The OP's question goes with my constant unanswered question - when has any of the doomsaying about MS proved true? That the perceived "monopolistic" moves were part of a greater evil plan?

While I know naysayers will probably dismiss this, I'll say that from the inside the message is simply to provide the best products for our customers and help them solve their problems.

Philo

Philo
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

"The OP's question goes with my constant unanswered question - when has any of the doomsaying about MS proved true? That the perceived "monopolistic" moves were part of a greater evil plan?"

How about when they started giving away a web browser to bankrupt Netscape?  How about the giving away of Windows Media Player to make RealNetworks irrelevant?  What about all of the unpublished APIs? 

If the Justic Department had any balls, they would've broken this comapny up long ago. 


"While I know naysayers will probably dismiss this, I'll say that from the inside the message is simply to provide the best products for our customers and help them solve their problems."

Well, I guess you wouldn't be much of a salesman if you said anything else.

dino
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

I for one can't complain about the unpublished API's.  I already had a rant on this earlier. 

As far as Real goes, that has always been the absolute worst provider of audio or video feeds ever.  When listening to an audio sample, its because I am _interested_ in the content.  i.e. I am considering the purchase of a CD.  I remember the days when Amazon only offered Real Audio feeds for their samples, and I have to say, never did any feed ever convince me to buy a CD.  The audio quality was so sub-par the actual content of the music was lost in the noise.  I feel no loss for the downfall of that company (which is just a disgruntled MS employee owned company anyways).

And I can't comment on Netscape.  I used Mozilla before switching to IE near the End of Life for that product.

Elephant
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

"While I know naysayers will probably dismiss this, I'll say that from the inside the message is simply to provide the best products for our customers and help them solve their problems."

With all due respect, you're as much of a strategic insider as any of us are reading microsoft.com.

.
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Now, let's be honest.

Netscape was a browser that crashed all the time. Crash, crash, crash. A crash usually crashed the OS, too.

And then came IE 3. It was fast, and it didn't crash.

So, I think that the victory of IE over Netscape was a well-deserved one.

When I write this, I'm not refering to the "new" Netscape, but to the Netscape available at the time when IE won the war.

IE was a lot more stable and faster than Netscape.

So, in my eyes, it deserved to win. It was high quality software.

.
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Listen to me Mozilla (too much caffine), I meant to type Mosaic.

Elephant
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Here's a consent decree that lists some of Microsoft's monopolistic practices dating back to the early 1990s.  You'll have to pull your head out of the sand to read it, though.

http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/pr/Pre_96/July94/94387.txt.html

'Microsoft makes its MS-DOS and Windows technology available on a "per processor" basis, which requires PC manufacturers to pay a fee to Microsoft for each computer shipped, whether or not the computer contains Microsoft operating system software.  The complaint alleges that this arrangement gives Microsoft an unfair advantage by causing a manufacturer selling a non-Microsoft operating system to pay at least two royalties--one to Microsoft and one to its competitor--thereby making a non-Microsoft unit more expensive.'

dino
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

I have also spent some time researching this.  I have not been able to find any case of MSFT patent enforcement touching court.  It may exist, but clearly MSFT has been benign wrt patents.

However, check out Eben Moglen's analysis of the Marshall Phelps hiring, as well as Phelps laying out his role at MSFT.
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2003/12/08/microsoft_aiming_ibmscale_patent_program/
http://www.legalmediagroup.com/mip/includes/print.asp?SID=2175

While MSFT has not been loudly enforcing software patents, they have been enforcing software copyright, a lucrative form of IP.  Given their maturity, Mundie's comments about Mono, and the recent patent defeats against weenie 1-person companies, it seems reasonable to wonder whether patent enforcement will become a prominent strategy of theirs.  So while it appears offtopic to not answer your question about previous MSFT patent enforcement, "past performance is no guarantee of future results" and you did link it to the question of Microsoft and Mono.

(Incidentally I also ignore The Reg, but Eben's comments are always worth reading.)

Tayssir John Gabbour
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Microsoft teamed with Sony and Nintendo to sue some mod chip seller, and they also sued some Asian company selling pirated software.  But as far as really going for patent infringement - I doubt they ever will.

Pauul Graham wrote a piece on this once -
http://www.paulgraham.com/msftpatent.html

As for Mono, Migual de Icaza has batted off most of the fear-mongers worries about Microsoft.  IIRC, though, there are portions of it that Microsoft could later enforce licensing fees upon.

Nick
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Suing a smalltimer would only reinforce the "big ban monopoly" image which is not in MS' interest.
IBM and MS appears to be in a MAD like situation. If they began firing off their strategic patent lawsuits neither would be left standing (and the industry would suffocate in the following patent-winter) so they are better off ignoring minor infringments and do cross licensing deals for the bigger stuff.

Generally, lawsuits are expensive and not cost-effective, so everone wants to avoid them. (Well, untill Kid McBride rode into town on his sorry excuse for a horse.)

Eric Debois
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Seems like I remember that Microsoft's counter-claim in the lawsuit brought on them by Stac was based on patent violation.

-Mark

Mark Bessey
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

"IBM and MS appears to be in a MAD like situation. If they began firing off their strategic patent lawsuits neither would be left standing (and the industry would suffocate in the following patent-winter) so they are better off ignoring minor infringments and do cross licensing deals for the bigger stuff."

MAD doesn't work when you're a tiny ISV that wants to enter the market with a great new product that might be the next Google. The patent spamming that many large, "mature" companies are doing are basically protecting their position and ensuring that they can destroy the little guy quickly. Microsoft has already pretty effectively done this by showing that they'll crush anyone : Venture capitalists won't touch anything that relies upon, or infringes upon, Microsoft's realm. This isn't because Microsoft is technically superior, but because they have a, tada, monopoly position and can roll onto anyone.

.
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

""" Suing a smalltimer would only reinforce the "big ban monopoly" image which is not in MS' interest.  """

Much easier and cheaper just to buy the smaller company.

I don't think they really give a crap about having a monopoly image. What's going to happen, DOJ going to come after them? HA!

  
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

I was under the impression that Microsoft's acquisition of patents was strategic defence.

Microsoft is happy to compete on the merits of its products and its work. It doesn't want low-life assembling a portfolio of patents specifically to attack Microsoft in the future.


Tuesday, April 13, 2004

I actually believe Microsoft's counter-suit against Stac was under trade secret laws, not patent infringement.  That's what my memory tells me, at least.

Aaron F Stanton
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

it's the future which is worrysome, not the present.

today they use non-patent mechanisms of threatening people. gates has stated (somewhere) that they'll never use patents offensively. (i can't find this quote and maybe it's not true, but there are similar ones out there).

however, you can imagine a future where somebody in the legal department gets sick of being on the defense and goes offensive. or management changes, and sees a nice portfolio (thankfully patents are short-termed, though not short enough for the software world).

mb
Wednesday, April 14, 2004

> however, you can imagine a future...

I think this is exactly the point of my curiosity.  Is there a clear history which scares us?  Or are we imagining a future so that we can have something to be afraid of?

Even this thread is amusing.  People seem to be assuming that my question is intended to lead toward a pro-Microsoft result.  I'm just looking for some facts which I think might be interesting.

Eric Sink
Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Well, I tried not to be too amusing. ;)  But if you read the interview with msft's lawyer I linked to, he claimed that history is thrown out the window.

"At IBM we did a lot of it. We had lots of lawyers doing preparation and prosecution around the world. At Microsoft, we don't have anyone doing that, but we are going to start."

Tayssir John Gabbour
Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Has nobody else thought how ridiculous it is for a software company to have patents in the first place?

And until recently the US has been the only country in the world you could successfully sue for a software patent anyway.

Stephen Jones
Wednesday, April 14, 2004

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