IP Issues with OOXML (DIS 29500)


Who’s Afraid of the GPL?

Out of all the free and open source licences which are available, there are two which are disproportionately chosen by FOSS developers when licensing their software. Those two are the GPL and the LGPL. Of these, the GPL is disproportionately favoured over the LGPL.* If there are issues with GPL implementations then there are IP issues with OOXML. Any assurance that excludes implementation under these licences is just cause for the FOSS community to voice concern.

The FAQ on the OSP has this to say about the GPL:

Q: Is this Promise consistent with open source licensing, namely the GPL? And can anyone implement the specification(s) without any concerns about Microsoft patents?

A: The Open Specification Promise is a simple and clear way to assure that the broadest audience of developers and customers working with commercial or open source software can implement the covered specification(s). We leave it to those implementing these technologies to understand the legal environments in which they operate. This includes people operating in a GPL environment. Because the General Public License (GPL) is not universally interpreted the same way by everyone, we can’t give anyone a legal opinion about how our language relates to the GPL or other OSS licenses, but based on feedback from the open source community we believe that a broad audience of developers can implement the specification(s).**

Imagine if you were standing next to someone’s land and there was a sign with the details of an open access promise (OAP), setting out when you are allowed to enter the land. It just so happens that the owner of the land is standing right beside you. You turn and say to them “So, this OAP, I’m here you can check me out, can I enter or not?”. They reply, “Well, I can’t really help you on that, you’ll have to read the OAP. It’s expressed in a simple and clear way – oh, and talk to your lawyer”.

If one thing is certain from that conversation it is that there are issues with you entering the land.

Similarly it is clear that there are issues with GPL implementations of DIS 29500. If there weren’t the answer would be phrased “A: Yes”. In fact, they still can. Microsoft can change the OSP right now by adding “and by the way any GPL implementation is permitted”. But they haven’t and I suspect they won’t.

If there are issues with GPL implementations then there are IP issues with OOXML. Microsoft implicitly concedes there are issues with GPL implementations.

Notes
* These figures are based on data from Sourceforge and relate to the numbers of projects licensed, without being weighted by popularity or maturity of the project.
** This FAQ indicates that those writing the FAQ believe that the OSP clearly permits implementation by some developers but not others based on the licence chosen by the developer. This raises the question of whether or not the OSP is really “non discriminatory” in effect.

9 Responses to “IP Issues with OOXML (DIS 29500)”


  1. 1 Frank Daley 11 February 2008 at 9:54 am

    Congratulation, a great analogy that clearly exposes Microsoft’s true intent towards the GPL.

  2. 2 Steve 11 February 2008 at 8:45 pm

    Very clear, succinct, logical. I await Microsoft’s response with great interest!
    (BTW I followed the groklaw.net link to this blog)

  3. 3 Mark 21 February 2008 at 7:15 am

    Actually they’re right.

    The GPL is interpreted differently in different countries, so they can’t give you a definite answer.
    Their OSP says what’s allowed and what’s not. Now, based on how the GPL is interpreted in your particular country, you can make the decision on whether it’s ok for you or not.

    So you might want to step down from your high horse and just realize that the problem is not with MS but with the way licenses such as the GPL are interpreted in different countries.

  4. 4 Anonymous 9 March 2008 at 5:11 am

    Wahhh wahhh…. MS won’t give me free legal advice. Waahhh Wahhh.


  1. 1 Boycott Novell » OOXML Has Software Patent Problems; Iffy OOXML Business in India Again Trackback on 11 February 2008 at 10:34 pm
  2. 2 A Deluge of Facts KOs OOXML (Office Open XML) | Fanatic Attack Trackback on 12 February 2008 at 10:22 am
  3. 3 Boycott Novell » ECMA’s and Microsoft’s Mistake in Geneva Trackback on 12 February 2008 at 1:51 pm
  4. 4 Boycott Novell » Microsoft OOXML: Patents, Patents, Patents (…x14) Trackback on 19 February 2008 at 5:19 pm
  5. 5 The Updated OSP and Free Software Interoperability « Brendan Scott’s Weblog Trackback on 4 August 2008 at 10:31 pm

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