Patent defense – Microsoft says licensing protects customers


A top Microsoft executive promoted the company’s licensing of network security protocols at the Interop trade show on Wednesday, but not before taking time out during a keynote address to defend the company’s patent licensing program for open-source software.

Microsoft has licensed networking protocols to Juniper Networks Inc. as part of a program to make its network access protection software work with more networking vendors’ products. It has also licensed protocols to Aruba Wireless Networks Inc. and network-attached storage vendor OnStor Inc., said Bob Muglia, senior vice president of Microsoft’s server and tools business.

Before bringing up those licensing deals in his keynote address Wednesday morning, Muglia offered an explanation for the software giant’s recent moves to license its software patents to open-source software distributors.

“The commercial software industry knows how to work with intellectual property and patents,” Muglia said.

Commercial software such as Microsoft’s has numerous patent sublicenses built into it for technology from other vendors, so that when a customer buys Windows or another Microsoft product, they have the assurance that Microsoft has given them the intellectual property protection they need, he said.

“Customers have indicated to us that it’s problematic to them that when they work with open-source software that they don’t have similar intellectual property protection,” Muglia said.

There is no mechanism to effectively license that software, he said. This creates a real problem for customers, and Microsoft’s licensing program is designed to solve it, according to Muglia.

However, Microsoft has been accused of creating that very problem. Its patent licensing deals with Novell Inc. and other companies have come under fire for creating fear, uncertainty and doubt among users of open-source software.

Muglia’s theme was Microsoft’s newfound focus on interoperability, including overtures to other companies in network security and unified communications, both hot topics at Interop. But one attendee said the company will have to overcome a years-long reputation for not working well with others.

Microsoft must be serious about interoperability now because it has no choice, said Brian Shannon, an independent networking consultant to small businesses in Avon-by-the-Sea, New Jersey. After all, with the proliferation of mobile devices, the company’s desktop business is on the way out, he said.


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