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