This one is a bit puzzling. Microsoft holds several software patents, just like any other large tech company. However, they are not known to litigate, and mostly engage in cross-licensing agreements with their portfolio (remember Novell?). But now Microsoft has sued cloud computing and consumer relationship management provider Salesforce for patent infringement. Microsoft representatives made the following statement:
“Microsoft has been a leader and innovator in the software industry for decades and continues to invest billions of dollars each year. [...] We have a responsibility to our customers, partners and shareholders to safeguard that investment, and therefore cannot stand idly by when others infringe our [intellectual property] rights.”
There are some quite interesting aspects of this suit. The first is the quality of the patents that Microsoft is using in their litigation. To put it bluntly, they raised my eyebrows to put it mildly:
- Method and system for mapping between logical data and physical data (7,251,653)
- Timing and velocity control for displaying graphical information (6,542,164 and 6,281,879)
- Automated web site creation using template driven generation of active server page applications (6,263,352)
- Aggregation of system settings into objects (6,122,558)
- System and method for controlling access to data entities in a computer network (5,941,947)
- Method and system for identifying and obtaining computer software from a remote computer (5,845,077)
- System and method for providing and displaying a web page having an embedded menu (5,742,768)
- Method and system for stacking toolbars in a computer display (5,644,737)
“Method and system for stacking toolbars in a computer display”? Really? The abstract is a beauty:
“A plurality of toolbars that include graphic objects, which can be selected by the user, are arranged in a stack. Only the graphic objects on one or more selected toolbars are displayed. The user can selectively choose a toolbar that has graphic objects currently hidden by the selected toolbar(s), causing one or more of the toolbars to move aside, exposing the group of graphic objects associated with the toolbar newly selected by the user. Movement of the toolbar(s) to disclose the graphic objects on the newly selected toolbar is preferably accomplished by animating the toolbar(s) to slide to different positions, so that the graphic objects or buttons on the newly selected toolbar are displayed. For added realism, the animation sequence used to disclose graphic objects on a selected toolbar includes an audible sound and a “bump” as the toolbar(s) reach a rest position.”
My gasted is flabbered.
Anyway, the real question is why exactly is Microsoft doing this? Apparently, the answer might be the most popular use of the patent system, you use it to attack competitors. The WSJ claims that Microsoft has recently started its own consumer relationship management service called Microsoft Dynamics. As cloud computing is set to continue to grow in the next years, it makes sense that Microsoft might be trying to cut down the competition. This is normal business practice, but I am a bit surprised that they are using such bad patents to do it.