I was delighted to learn of Microsoft's recent "Covenant Regarding Office
2003 XML Reference Schemas." This covenant goes beyond anything Microsoft
has ever done before. It means that both open source and proprietary
software can compete in implementations of these important XML schemas
without the threat of patent litigation from Microsoft.
This covenant is at least as generous as the patent licenses for many other
document formats and industry standards. It includes protection for
Microsoft against patent lawsuits; this is just like the patent defense
provisions in many open source licenses. And the scope of their patent
covenant, even though it is limited to "conforming" software products, is
sufficient to allow open source implementations that can read and write
Office 2003 documents. Microsoft's covenant is, to coin a phrase, as fair
and balanced as other licenses or covenants we've accepted before. I am
pleased to see Microsoft move their patent licensing strategy this far.
Microsoft has offered its specification for standardization by Ecma, an
industry standards organization headquartered in Europe. It is important for
open source companies to participate in this standardization effort, so that
we can ensure that the specification for the standard is itself developed in
an open way. If we do that, I'm confident that "conforming" software
products will evolve to meet customer needs worldwide without Microsoft
having to dictate the scope of that conformance.
The first reaction people will have is, "where's the catch?" I don't see
anything we can't live with. We can participate in crafting the standard in
Ecma, we can read and write Office 2003 files in open source applications,
and we don't have to pay royalties to Microsoft to do so. It's a good start.
In a followup, I asked for some clarification on the RAND terminology, and asked why that isn't an issue, and here's his answer:
As for the "conforming application" language, he says companies involved in open source should actively
participate in the Ecma activities. Needless to say, I disagree on everything.