Open Specification Promise

***Updated with links at end***

***Updating again with more links***

It would seem that I needed some impetus to get out of my summer blogging slump. Or as some would point out, my chronic condition of inconsistent blogging. I would venture a guess that I am not unique in my blogging patterns.

Today we announced the availability of Microsoft’s Open Specification Promise. This is a simple set of text (less than one page) that is an irrevocable promise to anyone in the world that MS will not sue them for the use of MS patents in an implementing (partially or fully) a covered specification. Full stop. Other companies have gone down this path and have called them Covenants Not To Sue (or CNS) or other such names. Ours is a promise, and it is irrevocable so we named it as such.  

I have been involved with the team working on this for many months, and it is a great next addition to the spectrum approach we have for intellectual property. For 5 years now we have been steadily walking down a path of increasing transparency and expanding the availability of MS IP assets to the community. There has been much speculation around our motives for doing this at each step (usually conspiracy theorists who hold that every step we are taking has some nefarious purpose) – yet we have not deviated from our intent to think creatively about intellectual property.

Intellectual property is a good thing. (I use IP as an amalgam of copyright, patent, trademark, and trade secret – yes each is a world unto itself…) At Microsoft, we are firm believers in it as we put enormous value on the creative works of our developers and the entire software ecosystem. I am big believer in it – not because of being an MS employee, but because of the opportunity it represents to all individuals. I also believe there is opportunity for reform, and always improvement about how we think and act in the IP space. Certainly, it can be abused – and that is always a very hard line to distinguish. (more on that to come)

The work I have been privileged to be a part of at MS covers and interesting spectrum. We have 3 basic categories of activity around the availability of our IP.

  • Commercial Licensing – patents, source code, specs for developers where we may have either royalty-bearing or royalty-free availability but with commercially-driven restrictions on use or availability.

    • availability of Windows source code to over 13,000 enterprise customers and governments but with limited rights and eligibility based upon commercial or governmental status
    • Protocol licensing program
    • “Open For Business” availability of our entire patent portfolio
    • IP Ventures – making MS Research technology available to startups

  • Community Licensing – enable no-cost, global access to technologies that allow others to add-on to MS technology and/or build their own unique solutions 

    • Free availability of SDKs and DDKs
    • Documented APIs
    • Shared Source Community programs on SourceForge, GotDotNet Workspaces, and CodePlex (>600 projects)

  • Open Specifications (The latest extension to our spectrum approach) – enable no-cost access to protocols and document format specifications that enable anyone to build implementations under whatever development model they see fit to use

    • Open XML specifications for Office
    • 35 Web Services specifications

At each step of the way, we solicit feedback and work with various communities of customers, partners, governments, individuals, academics, competitors, and anyone else that might be involved. In the case of the Open Specification Promise, folks like Mark Webbink of Red Hat, Larry Rosen a prominent voice in the OSS community, and Andy Updegrove who writes the blog (all three of which are thoughtful critics of MS) have all stated that the OSP is a good next step.

In the future, I am sure we will take positions on IP that will not be so agreeable to various constituencies, but that is the point of a spectrum approach. Any, and I do mean any, commercial organization today needs to have a sophisticated understanding of intellectual property and the strategies you may employ with it to achieve your business goals. Microsoft is not in the business of giving away IP – we are in the business of building great products that achieve broad industry adoption and generate revenue for the company. Our goal is to deliver value-based solutions to customers and to foster a global partner ecosystem – but the foundation of the business is, as always, growth and fiscal success.

So, the OSP is a great next step. Amy Marasco and Glen Johnson at MS are the quiet heroes who have been working so hard on the text itself. A huge cast of characters both within MS and from various reaches of the community were also involved.  Good stuff – now to expand the use of the OSP and apply it in ways to expand our work around interoperability and outreach to the community at large.

Links To Commentary:

Peter Galli at eWeek

Brent Phillips of Microsoft

Johannes Ernst of NetMesh, Inc.

Kim Cameron of Microsoft

Rohan Pinto, OSS Dev

More Links:

John Palfrey at Harvard Law Berkman Center

Paul Krill at InfoWorld

Mike Milinkovich at Eclipse Foundation

David Rudin of Microsoft

Comments (14)

  1. Microsoft Open Specification Promise What can I say about Microsoft’s decison to offer a patent covenant around web services and identity protocols? Not much that hasn’t been said already by people smarter than me. Neil Macehiter from MWD: "I think..

  2. Open Sources says:

    Jason Matusow, contrary to popular belief, is not dead. He’s actually alive (or his ghost writer is), because he just made a whopping two posts on his blog. I think Jason is one of the most intelligent guys in the…

  3. Dave says:

    By itself, this Promise is positive. What still concerns me, however, is that MS doesn’t actively support open source projects for .NET even when those projects do not compete with MS software and when those projects add value to the entire .NET developer community. I still see evidence of Microsoft’s willingness to apply its embrace, extend, exterminate mentality to the .NET open source community. When that attitude is completely gone, then I will feel really good about Microsoft again.

  4. jasonmatusow says:

    Dave – great comment. I think there are some great examples of our supporting .NET-based open source projects. Check out the DOTNETNUKE project. That was a project that started out based on approximately 11KLOC of MS Shared Source-licensed code and was grown into a 25KLOC app done by a single dev. Then, open sourced under BSD licensing (which was allowed by the Shared Source license), and now is >180KLOC done through community development on SOurceForge. Interestingly in that project, MS does not contribute to it directly, but the project leads get architectural guidance etc. from the ASP.NET core dev team. It is a solid example of what we should do more of in the hybrid world. There are >600 community development projects using MS technologies and many more than that on SourceForge using VisualStudio as the dev tool set for OSS development. I’d like to see more of this from us as it makes all the sense in the world.

    Anyway – thx for the comment, I’d encourage you to get on the .NET dev forums and talk about this more. Also, go check out Channel9 as it may have more useful info for you as well.


  5. Dave says:

    Jason – great points about DotNetNuke and the other Visual Studio-based open source projects. Your comment inspired me to write another article on my blog. I would love to hear your feedback. And I will take your advice and discuss this on the various dev forums I’m involved with. Thanks.

  6. Should Microsoft Financially Support Open Source Projects?

  7. Wesley Parish says:

    I have been wondering, off and on, on various sites, just how far the "property" analogy in the phrase "Intellectual Property Rights" goes.

    It is well known that various companies – Microsoft, Sun and IBM amongst them – have championed this analogy, and championed it quite strenuously.

    But, since software is now the enabling agent for much of the world’s commerce, I’m interested in finding out just how seriously such companies take this "property" analogy – since there is quite a lot of property law currently applicable to maritime commerce that might well be applicable to software.  In particular, salvage law.

    A lot of salvage law is aimed at preventing derelict vessels becoming a danger on the high seas and sea roads.  That is why salvage awards can be so high – there has to be a decent remuneration for efforts to salvage derelict vessels during storms, etc.

    F/LOSS appears to handle that organically by design – anyone making suitable corrections for bugs in the source code, gets attribution and respect.  In other words, they get an ownership part in the source tree.

    I’d be interested in your opinions on Microsoft’s and others’ efforts and otherwise to salvage derelict MS software, considering that as the most common malware platform, it’s now a major danger to international commerce.

  8. jasonmatusow says:

    Wesley –

    This issue of "property" as a descriptor for software needs to be looked at in a few different ways (IMHO). The fact is, the law considers it property and not just in the U.S. but in many, many countries. So anyone acting in a commercial manner with software should take full advantage of that standing – including those in the F/LOSS community. Software of course seems to possibly embody all forms of IP – in source form (copyright), binary form (patent), representation (trade mark), and provided you work to do so you can argue that the process to build it, the tools used, sequencing, etc. are all possible industrial secrets (trade secret).

    As for salvage law – I’ve never considered it before. I’ll chat with some folks and see what I can learn on that front.

    As for your conflation of the problem of malware and IP – I don’t get it. Malware is focused on the most popular platform for the sole reason that it represents the juiciest target. If Apple takes a bigger bite of the user-base pie – they will become a more attractive target no matter what their commercials say. Linux – same thing. The actions of people with malicious intent have NOTHING to do with IP.


  9. Dave says:

    Jason, the article on my blog triggered a couple other articles that might interest you.

    Here are the links:

    There are some new comments on my article that help clarify some of the points I wanted to make. Here is that link again:

    Thanks for your interest in this topic.

  10. salvage cars says:

    It isn’t entirely a joke (or a fair statement) that Microsoft has become a legal department traveling as a software company. Yet there are some upsides. One is that some very smart lawyers at a very large company have had to engage Reality through company technologists brave and determined enough to engage the open source community in constructive collaboration.