February 18, 2003 spout

Microsoft & Patents

Tue, Feb 18, 2003

The buzz was all around VSLive last week about Microsoft patenting the .NET Framework API. In fact, an eWEEK reporter asked my opinion and this is what I said:

I’m no patent attorney, but in examining the patent application, it looks to me as if they’re claiming a patent for the entire .NET Framework, which comprises the classes that a .NET programmers uses to get anything done. My understanding of the patent laws says that Microsoft has every right to do this, since they invented it. The reason for them to do this is so that they can maintain control of its implementation. Hopefully Microsoft will grant a royalty free license to all implementations of the CLI ECMA standard, which makes up a large percentage of the .NET Framework, or that standard will be worthless.
Even if they grant such a license, projects like Mono are still vulnerable. They plan on implementing even the parts of .NET that aren’t standardized, like ASP.NET and WinForms. This would allow Windows programs compiled against .NET to run under Mono on Linux, providing a single API for cross-platform applications. This has been tried and failed in the past as recently as Java, but I had hoped that the Mono guys could make this work. When Microsoft is granted this patent, they can shut down the non-standardized parts of Mono whenever they want. That’s good for Microsoft share holders, but it’s not good for 3rd party developers that want to write cross-platform solutions.

What I should have added is that as far as I know, Microsoft hasn’t ever enforced its patents. Apparently they keep them for defensive reasons only. Or, they could be waiting til they have a critical mass of patents, enforce them all at once and win the game of Risk that they’re playing with the world. : )