I have not seen any official document summarising the outcome of the OOXML seminar at UNSW last year. However, the main thing that I have heard unofficially in relation to the open specification promise is that pains were taken to compare its wording to the wording of similar promises made by IBM.
To make such a comparison presupposes that when two people say the same thing they ought to receive the same reception. Is this justified?
Microsoft on Patents
Microsoft’s recent history on patents (particularly since the Novell deal in November 06) has a particularly public persona:
Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith and licensing chief Horacio Gutierrez sat down with Fortune recently to map out their strategy for getting FOSS users to pay royalties. – Fortune
“Novell pays us some money for the right to tell customers that anybody who uses SuSE Linux is appropriately covered,” Ballmer said. “This is important to us, because [otherwise] we believe every Linux customer basically has an undisclosed balance-sheet liability.” Techworld
“We’ve had an issue, a problem that we’ve had to confront, which is because of the way the GPL (General Public License) works, and because open-source Linux does not come from a company — Linux comes from the community — the fact that that product uses our patented intellectual property is a problem for our shareholders. We spend $7 billion a year on R&D, our shareholders expect us to protect or license or get economic benefit from our patented innovations. …
“… we agreed on … essentially an arrangement under which they pay us some money for the right to tell the customer that anybody who uses Suse Linux is appropriately covered… They’ve appropriately compensated Microsoft for our intellectual property, which is important to us. In a sense you could say anybody who has got Linux in their data center today sort of has an undisclosed balance sheet liability, because it’s not just Microsoft patents.”
Steve Ballmer on SeattlePI Blog
Microsoft’s latest licensing push stems from its claim that FOSS infringes on 235 of its patents, and that those patents are intellectual property that should result in fair compensation to Microsoft in the form of licensing fees. LinuxInsider
Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer has warned users of Red Hat Linux that they will have to pay Microsoft for its intellectual property.
“People who use Red Hat, at least with respect to our intellectual property, in a sense have an obligation to compensate us,” Ballmer said last week at a company event in London discussing online services in the UK. VUNet
Mr. Ballmer once called Linux a form of intellectual-property cancer. While he has since dialed back the rhetoric, the subtext remains in nearly all Microsoft discussions of Linux: Use it, and you run the risk that Microsoft will sue you [for patent infringement]. Post-Gazette
So the two top level points [about the Novell-MS deal], as Ron whispered to me, technical interoperability and patent peace of mind, and we’re trying to provide both of those things to our customers in a way that works for the business interest of the open source development community, and the Microsoft development community. – Steve Ballmer at the Press Conference announcing the Novell-MS Deal.
… Steve Ballmer has claimed that Microsoft signed its patent peace deal with Novell because Linux “uses our patented intellectual property” and Microsoft wanted to be “appropriately compensated.” Business Review Online
The efforts of Microsoft to pressure the Linux community over alleged and unspecified patents is akin to “patent terrorism”, according to an executive for Sun. ZDNet
Microsoft’s patent push is stimulated by a number of factors. One is competition and trying to make sure that Microsoft’s rivals don’t get access to key innovations. However, the company also began a broad intellectual-property licensing push several years ago, under which it licenses technology to many companies big and small. The company has signed a slew of patent cross-licensing deals since then, the most recent being Tuesday’s deal with Japan’s JVC. CNet News.com
For those who have access to Google, there are others in a similar vein. Perhaps those who are not in the open source community will not be as aware of this history.
IBM on Patents
IBM’s public history in respect of patents is a little different (I have not included any references to IBM’s patent promise from last year):
IBM is playing a pioneering role in the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s program to open environmentally-responsible patents to the general community. IT-Wire
Following up on a promise last August to not use its vast patent portfolio against Linux users, IBM pledged in January to give 500 patents to open source developers. Linux-Mag
The Open Invention Network was formed with undisclosed investments from IBM Corp. [and others] …When the Open Invention Network acquires patents they will be available to any company, institution or individual that agrees not to assert its patents against the Linux OS or certain Linux-related applications, it said in a statement. PC-Welt