Microsoft balances patents, standards

To patent or not to patent, that is the question for Microsoft.

The software giant has been a prolific intellectual property mill over the past two decades, securing more than 3,000 U.S. patents. But as Microsoft and other large companies actively embrace open standards as a way to expand the market for Web services and other technology, they walk a fine line between promoting the adoption of standards and protecting valuable proprietary software.

Standards such as Extensible Markup Language (XML), a format for creating structured documents and facilitating Web services, have been embraced by Microsoft and others as a way to ensure the interchange of data between disparate computing systems. The basic XML description is freely published and open to anyone, but the software Microsoft and others are building to exploit XML isn't, leading to a growing list of granted and pending patents covering methods for manipulating XML data. In just the past month, Microsoft has applied for patents in Europe and elsewhere to cover how XML-based documents are created in the company's dominant Word software. Analysts and rivals claim the company is attempting to use patented technology to lock out competitors. Microsoft contends it is simply protecting its intellectual property.

News source: C|Net News.com

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