Microsoft 'Patent Tracker' Puts IP Info Online
Microsoft Corp. has launched an online tool that allows anyone to search for and view the companys patents. The Patent Tracker allows users to access a searchable list of all of the patents Microsoft owns. Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith said the company was introducing the tool as a way to create greater transparency in the U.S. patent system.
Transparency that shows who owns and controls patents will create a healthier patent system, Smith told CorpCounsel.com. To encourage innovation, its important that the public be able to easily access information not only about new patents but also about who owns them.
Smith said that Microsoft hopes other companies will follow its example and make information about which patents they own available to the public. If this transparency were to spread broadly, we would have a completely transparent market, which would facilitate licensing, deter litigation, and encourage innovation, he said.
The announcement comes on the heels of another recent move Microsoft said it made in the interest of transparency. Last week the company released information on law enforcement requests for customer data, breaking down by country the 75,378 requests it received. In an extensive report, it disclosed details about what kind of information it provided to law enforcement in each countrywhether it was content data, like the body of an email, or non-content data, which can include a persons name, email address, country of residence, or IP address. Google and Twitter also release information about law enforcement requests for customer data.
The two announcements come out of two different legal fields, and the timing is coincidental, Smith said. But they do reflect a common theme: The desire in the world today to see large companies be more transparent in their practices.
Microsoft hopes that making patent holdings easily searchable will curb the activities of non-practicing entities (NPEs). These so-called patent trolls often sue companies after they begin selling products that include patents held by the NPE, alleging infringement on their intellectual property.
"Transparency around patent ownership will help prevent gamesmanship by companies that seek to lie in wait and 'hold up' companies rather than enable a well-functioning secondary market," Smith wrote in a blog post in which he described the Patent Tracker.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office also offers an online tool to search patentsbut although the information is available to the public, its not always clear in that system who owns or controls a patent. Since Microsoft is one of the nations largest recipients of U.S. patents and also actively licenses its technology, clarifying the PTO data in its Patent Tracker could prove useful to inventors.
The move could also benefit Microsoft, which has been engaged in its share of patent litigation. With all of its 40,785 patents listed online, a company might have a harder time claiming it was unaware of a Microsoft patent, making it harder to avoid some punitive damages. Smith noted that its not clear that argument would hold up in court, however, and said that was not a consideration when Microsoft decided to launch the new tracking tool.
Microsofts Patent Tracker allows users to access the list of its patents, searchable by patent number, patent title, country, and whether the patent is held by Microsoft or a subsidiary. It also offers a downloadable and searchable CSV file containing the entire list.
The Microsoft announcement came the same day that Google pledged it would not sue any user, distributor, or developer of open source software who uses any of 10 patents it owns unless it were attacked first. While Google said it is pledging the free use of certain of its patent because it is committed to promoting innovation, many in the tech industry viewed the news with skepticism, noting that Google owns more than 17,000 patents, and many had assumed it would not assert any of them against open source developers.
As patent wars have intensified, however, the tech giant has built up its IP arsenal, acquiring Motorola, buying patents from IBM, and joining a consortium to purchase patents Kodak sold in bankruptcymostly so it could use them defensively.
Google is fully cognizant of the fact that software developers have grown increasingly anti-patent, however. The company, which has two major products that are based on the open source systemthe Chrome browser and Androidwants to uphold its image as an ally of open source technology.