Microsoft Beefs Up Interoperability Commitments

Critics call the steps insufficient on the patent side.

Microsoft provided more details about its settlement with the European Commission (EC), particularly with regard to interoperability agreements.

In a blog post in December, Dave Heiner, Microsoft's vice president and deputy general counsel, claimed that the company has pledged to implement a threefold approach to interoperability that EC Commissioner Neelie Kroes outlined in past speeches.

Heiner summarized that approach: companies should disclose technical information, provide a remedy if the information is inadequate and charge equitable royalty rates for associated intellectual property.

Kroes had also specifically called for companies to follow open standards as one of the best ways to achieve interoperability. However, Heiner omitted the word, "open," from his comment. He said that "products from different firms can work well together when they implement common, well-designed industry standards."

Microsoft's interoperability pledge announced in December 2009 appears to continue ideas the company put forth in February 2008. At that time, the company announced broad interoperability principles as well as APIs for software developers working with Microsoft's main products, including Windows client and server operating systems, Exchange, Office and SharePoint, among others. Microsoft has been releasing documentation for that purpose, with "hundreds of Microsoft developers" devoted to the effort, according to Heiner.

The new elements to Microsoft's interoperability pledge seem to be warranty and patent-sharing templates. Those documents can be accessed at the end of a statement about the settlement by Brad Smith, Microsoft's senior vice president and general counsel.

Essentially, companies can sue if they think Microsoft is not following through with providing proper API documentation, according to a blog post by Groklaw, a frequent Microsoft critic and a site devoted to software legal issues. The Groklaw post noted that nothing has really changed for commercial software companies working with open source software under the GNU General Public License because Microsoft's interoperability agreement appears to restrict commercial distribution of software without royalty agreements first being in place.

The Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) backed that view: "The patent commitments are clearly insufficient because they don't allow commercial exploitation," said Carlo Piana, FSFE's legal counsel, in a statement. "This keeps out competition from Free Software, which in many areas is the biggest competitor to Microsoft's programs."

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.