It seems that lawyers are working overtime at the moment when it comes to technology companies. At the moment, Oracle and SAP facing each other in the courts and Apple and Nokia are duking it over patents. And of course, the long-running saga of SCO against the world is finally over.
So, the news that Microsoft is suing Salesforce over certain procedures shouldn't come as a total surprise. News site The Register has posted more details of the action - including the claim itself.
Microsoft alleges nine breaches of its patents:
- Method for mapping between logical data and physical data
- System and method for providing and displaying a web page having an embedded menu
- Method and system for stacking toolbars in a computer display
- . Automated web site creation using template driven generation of active server page applications
- Aggregation of system settings into objects
- Timing and velocity control for displaying graphical information - Microsoft alleges two infringements here.
- Method and system for identifying and obtaining computer software from a remote computer
- System and method for controlling access to data entities in a computer network
I don't want to comment on the viability or not of Microsoft's case - except to point out that Microsoft is not a particularly active litigator when it comes to protecting its patents - but I am concerned that there is a growing trend for software companies to use the courts as an adjunct to their marketing tools. Microsoft is a huge organisation and. to say the least, is a heavy-hitter when it comes to software. It should have the technical, sales and marketing clout to see off any of its competitors.
Microsoft, of course, has its own cloud offerings:notably. Microsoft Azure as a development platform. In March, Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer said that the company was betting big on the cloud, so it would certainly do harm to tie up one of the biggest software as a service player in a court action. The company must certainly hope so - it has surely not scored well on the public relations front with this move.
The real problem is the loosely worded software patents, particularly in the US, which are a lawyer's delight and a technologist's nightmare. Rather worryingly, European countries could be set to go down the same path. My colleague on Computerworld, Glyn Moody, has blogged about the German intention to make all software patentable - mirroring the US situation.
A few weeks ago, British science writer Simon Singh, won his libel case when the Court of Appeal ruled that the action by the British Chiropractic Society was over a scientific dispute that should have been settled among scientists rather than in the courts of law. At the moment, there is no mechanism for technology to debate such disputes without resorting to m'learned friends. The growing proliferation of patent battles helps no-one - not the vendors and not their customers. Sadly, while the stakes are so high, I see little chance of companies ceasing to go down this route.
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