Microsoft defends XML patent, offers royalty-free licence

Microsoft is defending its patenting of an XML process, saying the company has to defend its intellectual property and that it is giving away the fruits of its labour for free.

Microsoft has applied for a patent governing the storing of word processing documents in XML. Microsoft has applied for the patent in Europe and in New Zealand - neither jurisdiction has granted the application yet.

However Microsoft New Zealand communications manager Carol Leishman says Microsoft is fully committed to its royalty-free programme and has no plans to charge customers under that programme.

"If we don't patent something that we've invented or developed someone else would. Then we couldn't give away the intellectual property that we don't own."

Leishman says it's the "responsible thing to do" to protect Microsoft's investment.

In November, Microsoft announced it would introduce a royalty-free licensing programme for its Office 2003 XML Reference Schemas.

The New Zealand Open Source Society president Peter Harrison says he's concerned about the patent over Microsoft's XML schema despite assurances that the company won't charge customers for it. He says it gives Microsoft control over who will be granted a licence for the schema.

"Should Microsoft patent the XML file format used to store word processing files it will mean that those who wish to interoperate with Microsoft generated files will need to obtain a license from Microsoft," says Harrison on the NZOSS website. He points to moves by the New Zealand government to ensure all documentation is stored in XML to avoid dependency on any one single vendor.

"In effect Microsoft will gain exactly the kind of control that the Government was trying to avoid in its decision to store files in XML format. It is difficult to understand why any company would decide to patent a file format if its true desire was to see true interoperability."

Leishman says the patent applies only to those extensions beyond the core XML standard and that other companies are also patenting their developments.

"Other companies are also patenting their extensions of the basic XML design. It's not just Microsoft."

Harrison says the Society will be discussing the legal position and may make a submission on the patent to the Intellectual Property Office (IPONZ) when public submissions on the proposal are heard.

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