Microsoft announced on February 21st at a press release to be followed by a 11:30 AM Eastern press conference that it was launching a “broad-reaching changes to its technology and business practices to increase the openness of its products and drive greater interoperability, opportunity and choice for developers, partners, customers and competitors.”
Specifically, Microsoft promises to :enhance connections with third-party products,” by publishing documentation for all its high-volume products’ APIs (application programming interfaces) and communications protocols that are used to connect with other Microsoft products. According to the statement, “Developers do not need to take a license or pay a royalty or other fee to access this information. Open access to this documentation will ensure that third-party developers can connect to Microsoft’s high-volume products just as Microsoft’s other products do.”
What is truly different is that Microsoft will also indicate on its Web site “which protocols are covered by Microsoft patents and will license all of these patents on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms, at low royalty rates. To assist those interested in considering a patent license, Microsoft will make available a list of specific Microsoft patents and patent applications that cover each protocol.” In the past, Microsoft has been secretive on which of its patents actually apply to any given program or protocol.
And, after years of threatening open-source developers with possible legal attacks for never named patents, in its statement, Microsoft claimed that it will now provide “a covenant not to sue open source developers for development or non-commercial distribution of implementations of these protocols. These developers will be able to use the documentation for free to develop products. Companies that engage in commercial distribution of these protocol implementations will be able to obtain a patent license from Microsoft, as will enterprises that obtain these implementations from a distributor that does not have such a patent license.”
The announcement, however, did not include any details on this patent covenant.