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Google: No Open-Source Patent Suits, Microsoft Lists Patents

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Information technology giants Google and Microsoft each spelled out new policies yesterday they claim will increase the transparency of their intellectual property practices. Google vowed it would not take legal action against developers of open-source software on some of its patents, and Microsoft published an online tool listing all of the company’s patents.

Google’s vow not to sue open-source developers, distributors, or users for patent infringement was made in a blog post by Duane Valz, a patent attorney for the company. In announcing Google’s Open Patent Non-Assertion Pledge, Valz says, “we pledge not to sue any user, distributor or developer of open-source software on specified patents, unless first attacked.” Valz acknowledged Google was following the corporate policy lead of IBM and Red Hat, as well as the Open Invention Network that promotes intellectual property transparency around the open-source Linux operating system.

As part of the policy, Google specified a set of 10 patents initially covered under the pledge, related to its MapReduce software for processing and generating large data sets. Four of the 10 patent claims have been granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, while the remainder are still pending.

Microsoft unveiled it new patent search tool, called Patent Tracker, in a blog post, by Brad Smith, the company’s general counsel. The goal of Patent Tracker, says Smith is to “help prevent gamesmanship by companies that seek to lie in wait and ‘hold up’ companies rather than enable a well-functioning secondary market.” Transparency in patent matters, Smith adds, “is a prerequisite to enforceability of patent licensing pledges, whether to standards bodies or to the world at large.”

Patent Tracker makes it possible to search Microsoft’s patent holdings by patent number, patent title, country, and whether the patent is held by Microsoft or a subsidiary, called the assignee. As an alternative, visitors can download a complete list of Microsoft patents in comma-separated-value (*.csv) format. Since the patents are listed by number, that indicates the database covers only issued patents, not those still pending.

A search on the term “automobile” in the title returned seven entries, including three patents with the same title, “Fault-Resilient Automobile Control System,” in the U.S., France, and Japan. For details beyond the number, title, country, and assignee, searchers need to query other public patent databases, such as those offered by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the European Patent Office.

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