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back to article Microsoft's patents shakedown betrays spirit of Gates

Microsoft, once the ruler of the software universe, doesn't even make Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt's Gang of Four influential tech companies. It's not that Microsoft has lost its ambition. But it may be that Microsoft's ambition has changed, and for the worse. Microsoft once prided itself on minting profits from …

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FAIL

Totally Gatesian

Like forcing PC manufacturers to pay a license fee to M$ for every PC produced regardless of the OS installed on that PC and micro monitoring sales figures to make sure that said PC makers weren't trying to "stiff" M$.

If you don't know the history don't try to rewrite it.

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Pirate

The Good, Old Days

"Piracy" didn't exist then -- everyone could use DOS and Windows on their white box PCs free of charge.

Funny how they turned the 1995 consent decree that was supposed to curb their income into a revenue generator...

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Devil

Not quite

Gates still shipped his product and _ALWAYS_ preferred to kill the competitor's product to take their market share instead of being content of running a protection racket.

That is different and this time Matt is right. Excellent observation.

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Stop

and forcing the sale of IE

Both Gates and Ballmer like the idea of forcing all consumers to purchase IE.

You bought it, right?

Perhaps not. If you did not buy anything from Microsoft.

But, there are few stupid enough not to know that illegally bundling IE was the plan for Microsoft. At least not those who are intelligent enough to write code. Nothing beats sales better than a forced sale.

Remember the threat Gates gave Netscape? Stay away from the Microsoft market or we will just bundled IE. Simple enough. Even a moron can understand the affect such illegal acts would have on the industry. Or, course Gates was ignorant. He used the "b" (bundle) word before his lawyers reminded him that bundling was illegal. Then the idiot claimed that IE was not an application at all.

Microsoft continues to illegally bundle IE thanks to paying off the US DOJ and the EU Commission. And they continue to illegally commingle the code between the OS and IE.

WHY?

To force you to purchase IE. And to stop you from removing the application after your purchase too.

In other words, your opinion does not count.

I feel sorry for the engineers who think their success has anything to do with them.

Certainly any engineer with half a brain knows that having your product sold by force is best. Screw the customer. They do not count pass their wallet.

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Anonymous Coward

@Mediocrates

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Letter_to_Hobbyists

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Pirate

I am aware of that

But it really does not negate anything I wrote as BillG's letter was written in 1976 and by the 1990's Microsoft structured their pricing in such a way that licenses for both DOS and Windows were tied to CPU purchases (at least in the USA). This meant if you bought a CPU and only a CPU you got a license for DOS and Windows. Hence, no "piracy" of MS operating system products could possibly exist for the first half of the nineties.

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Anonymous Coward

No Change

Microsoft has always been an opportunistic feeder; since the days of QDOS. MSFT don't make markets, they try find ways to move in and capture markets other people create. That worked with the desktop for a long time; but that grift is running out. Most of their other attempts (e.g. Bing) have failed. They don't have a new grift.

Back in the late 1990's Bill Gates said that if Windows NT5 wasn't an enterprise class operating system (with a database that could compete with the likes of DB2) that MSFT had no long-term future.

Soon after that, NT5 became Windows 2000, and Mr. Gates started divesting himself of stock.

This is just MSFT looking for bits of flesh missed by the other predators. it's the logical next step in their hyena-like existence.

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Flame

Dump Balmer

Get rid of this ass clown, I'm really tired of looking at him, if I need to see a penis I can just look down, I am tired of looking at this one.

Microsoft would change for the better without the balmerdick.

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Unhappy

Not so sure it would really make a difference.

Like politicians, business 'leaders' tend to be fairly transparently interchangable. I suspect the Balmeresque are likely to be the only types interested in manning the position at a company of this corporate culture.

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Anonymous Coward

Can't really agree

I've worked for bleeding edge high tech companies. When they changed CEO it was because they wanted new blood with different thinking to make it to the next step. They went from #3 in the industry to #1 over the span of 3 CEOs, each had their strengths.

MS is LONG overdue for a change.

I don't think the tech industries equate to politics like other type of business.

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Facepalm

err, what?

MS is bleeding edge, right? ^_^

MS in four steps :

Innovate and sell (80s through 90's)

Licensing Fees from OEMS (the Dell boom Era)

Buy it, clone it, and close it (late 90s, through early 00's)

make nothing, license everything. (the last ten years or so) (mostly to complement the "compete with everyone and fail strategies; see Zune/Bing/Live/Live!Search/GFWL/Hotmail Part 2 debacle)

this 'spirit of gates' thing is kind of hilarious, though. really? things are now so bad and so anti-innovation under ballmer we're recalling gates with rose-tinted spectacles, mumbling into our tea about the good old days?

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Big Brother

Can't compete. End of line.

It would be informative if the "Intellectual Property" was labeled as what it is -- a "State Granted Monopoly". Otherwise might get the bizarre idea that it has something to do with things that one owns or has created or is actively bringing to market.

"What are we incapable of working on that could become important in five or 10 years? Should we do some "inventing" in this space and develop some monopolies that could give us a steady rent later on?"

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A fundamental error in the article. . .

Matt Asay's mistake here is very simple: he seems to think that *either* Microsoft sells software *or* they become patent trolls. Microsoft is a huge company and can do both; there is no need for them to choose to do one *or* the other. In fact, it is probably the case that the set of people involved in engineering software and the set of people involved in patent trolling are two *completely* different sets of people, with only a very, very few people involved in both, such people being at the very top of the Microsoft corporate hierarchy.

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Meh

@Fundamental error

Disagree.

#1 From an external perception, and software is largely about how you are perceived, MS still looks like a patent troll with this. Android "copied MS IP?". Funny. Granted, average Joe Buyer @ Walmart probably doesn't care, but it still does nothing to polish up their image.

#2 A company can only be in so many activities at one time without losing direction.

MS has had really crappy ROI on their massive R&D spending to date - there is very little in the computing world where you go "yes, MS _invented_ (or even perfected) this".

They can direct that R&D spending to new products or they emphasize "getting a place at the table when someone else does something worthwhile".

My take on MS is this: they are a 2 cash cow company. Windows + Office. For years they have had huge cashflows coming in and tried to diversify to new products. By any metric, this has been a massive failure, with the possible exception of XBox and MS SQL. Any attempt to understand MS should have that desire to buy diversification in mind. R&D has been part of that, but if they emphasize IP it means they recognize they aren't succeeding at marketable innovation.

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Typical of Open Source

Can't create on your own, just copy copy copy - no wonder you bitch about patents. How about inventors get to earn a buck from thier ideas - but the typical Linux strategy is copy - copy someone's OS and give it away, copy someone's music and give it away, copy someone's movies and give them away.

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Re Blarkon

"Can't create on your own, just copy copy copy "

You mean like MS copied all their ideas from Xerox Parc and didn't give them a damn penny for them.

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Megaphone

You just don't get it do you?

No it's not "copy copy copy..." The point of Open Source is to take something that's out there, either improve it or put your own spin on it, and put your version out there and see if anyone likes it; the free market will pick the winners as opposed to legions of lawyers clubbing each other with briefcases. I've said it before and I'll say it again: free market capitalist reactionaries like me should be embracing open source-- sure it's trickier to monetize but the perversion of the patent system we're seeing is anti-competitive, anti-capitalist, and deadly to the innovation and competition that keep free economies healthy.

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Thumb Down

@Typical of Open Source

In this case? MS extracting IP payments for innovations they have done did in the tablet/touch OS space?

Your rant is valid in some cases. There are open source products that just mimic. Most Open Source is not that innovative. Guess what? Neither is most proprietary software - rare are the product niches with only one product in them. Most proprietary products are also tweaks and improvements on whatever their predecessors were, not radical inventions.

Mostly, Open Source, outside of technology enablers like languages and framework, transforms the economics of what has by then become commodity software. It has also had a fairly strong influence on stability, quality and the level of bugginess people accept from proprietary software. Hardly sounds like a drag on society's well-being, as you would have it.

Agree with you though... there are domains Open Source isn't particularly well suited at and struggles to compete against well-financed, focussed proprietary offerings.

To name 2 such domains - programs with complex user interface requirements, like CAD and graphic editors. And games. Who wants to play a plot-driven game that one has participated in developing, for example? Doh.

p.s. we were talking about software, weren't we? wtf you going on about music piracy for? how is that related to open source?

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"copy someone's OS "

Nonsense !

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Linux

re: "copy someone's OS "

Unix >>>> Linux

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Kernel

Linux is the name of the kernel not the OS.

Most Unixes use the same GNU software for the command line and other things like CRON (scheduling). There would have been a GNU kernel but it's development has stalled once Linus has decided to write Linux.

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He seems to think 'Linux' has to do with copying movies

Face it, the guy is so anal retentive, that the shit is now spewing from his mouth, as the only remaining escape route. Don't waste your time on him: he knows nothing and seeks to learn less. When they volunteer stupidity upon themselves, it is best to let them wallow in it. They will never influence matters, that way.

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Anonymous Coward

Correct Conclusions Despite Flawed Premise

Gates has commented favorably on Microsoft's "patent strategy", and it was quite a long time ago that he did it, so long in fact, that, lacking any context or definition of the phrase, I and probably most others who saw him mention it on TV had no idea what he was talking about.

I don't like it, but all the behemoths do it - to the weak, as Microsoft does to unbackstopped Linux companies, and the Barnes and Noble's Nook eReader, and to each other when they see an opening.

The title for Most Evilest used be no contest, but things have gotten a lot closer lately.

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Re: Gates on MS's patent strategy

As I recall, it was at a time when IBM had more patents than the rest of the industry put together and were milking them to make up for not having an innovative products. Bill watched and learned. It was also just a few years after the USPTO changed their rules, so everyone was admiring the growing mountain of patents being granted but the negative consequences were only obvious to those with a clue.

But remember that most of this IP is *still* only technically valid in the US. The rest of the world is affected only because the major players still do so much business in the US and choose not to develop separate product lines for the rest of the world. That could change, particularly if the US players retreat from genuine product development and in consequence no longer have anything to offer the RotW.

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More likely the rest of the world will change

The U.S. can and will threaten all and sundry with economic sanctions unless they 'normalize' their patent law to match theirs. The UK patent law is already (more or less) back in line and I'm sure there is plenty of pressure on the other EU countries to follow suit.

>remember that most of this IP is *still* only technically valid in the US.

No, its valid here in the U.K. too.

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IBM did more than simply 'milk' its patents

IBM often didn't (and still doesn't) assert any tariff over the patents it owns, for very long. It moves on, once the precedent has been set. IBM did (and does) have innovative products: it just doesn't make many of them, themselves. In fact, it has not been possible to assemble a modern computer for the last two decades without using IBM patents.

This is a place Microsoft wants to be in, because it is a strong position. However, it has few footholds in the existing markets, that matter, with which to assert an influence. Furthermore, it has to exert a tariff on what it has, because 'free' is an expensive trick to pull of.

By being 'free', or nearly free, to use, you see, the IBM approach became the line of least resistance - in a market where the line of least resistance is also the bottom line. The overall aim, was to ensure that by (for instance) making spinning media cheapest form of high-density storage in the market, IBM was able invest heavily in researching ways of increasing storage density on magnetic media - as a justifiable investment for future revenues. The result was things like antiferromagnetically-coupled media, and the assumption that leads from it (to the effect that "400 Gigabytes is nothing like enough storage, for anyone"). AFC is the obvious example, of course, but it is a story that has been repeated again and again, in IBM patents which make modern computing possible.

IBM's influence over the PC industry was far from benign, but its shadow was one that everyone could bear living under. It helped steer the computer industry to a state of standardisation that would not have existed, otherwise, and wherever the industry went IBM just happened to have a real, patented technology sitting in the road ahead, waiting to be used.

In a way, this was why IBM 'embraced' open source: it could recognise a line of least resistance when it saw one. Edge servers and peripherals would increasingly revert to using free software until commodity hardware would never again contain proprietary software. Open source would inevitably seep in from the edges and extinguish the existing, but not very innovative, incumbents, and the remaining proprietary software would need to interface with it - and eventually interface with each other - because the middle layer had become open source. Microsoft gave up fighting Samba so fiercely, in recent times, simply because users were buying high density storage arrays and print servers, that used embedded Linux. Stopping a user getting at his or her photo or music collection is not good business.

This is the problem for Microsoft, in a lot of ways: the only card it has left to play, is the "stop being as obstructive" card.

Microsoft is not one huge conglomerated body, however, but a vast township of different and often cross-competitive fiefdoms - that as often work against each other, as towards any common goal. In fact, if any company deserved describing as a 'they', rather than an 'it', it's Microsoft; and it is possible that something can emerge from the chaos, that can point them, collectively, in a direction that has 'tomorrow' written on it.

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FAIL

Because

One of Googles largest competitors is going to feature on their list of influential companies.

That would be like HTC saying that the Apple iphone IS one of the best phones currently made.

If anything its the Author thats sitting in the dark ages on this one, back in the WinTel days there was little to no choice, MS and what not didnt really have any compertition that could stand up and be counted so of course market shares are going to drop. you take something which has dominance let others create copies/different approches, it will dilute the market

As for their patents, why shouldnt they upload the rights to them, not to do so would set a dangerous precedent

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Meh

MS doesn't really have a stranglehold

They can lay claim to some de facto standards, but would it take much for a few major players to create MS-free product zones and new standards of their own? $12.50 per unit seems good encouragement to do that.

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Devil

The Gates Legacy

>Microsoft is renowned for making its partners, and not just itself, rich ..

There is a graveyard somewhere littered with companies who one time engaged in a 'partnership` with Microsoft, once all the original technology was assimilated the company through litigation, is reduced to a discarded shell, with the former enployees hired on to Microsoft.

"Dear Bob: I had hoped it would work out for you to join Microsoft, and create a California development center for us", Bill Gates Dec 1987

"Microsoft is interested in exploring potential business oppurtunities relating to the GO netebook computer", Feb 1989

"We're preparing a proof-of-concept demonstration for early June .. Both Jerry and I are very interested in your thoughts and comments on GO's plans", May 1988 Robert M. Carr V.P Software GO Corporation

"Next Steps 1) LF to spend more days @ GO to soak up GO tech", May 1989 [hand written note px00091.pdf]

"Dear Andy: I guess I've made it very clear that we view an Intel investment in Go as an anti-Microsoft move", June 1990

http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20050704045343631

> Phelps talks about IP in a way that would almost certainly sound foreign to former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, who liked to actually build products, not just IP

Microsoft owes most of its sucess through engaging in barely legal cohersion of the OEMs that gave MS a virtual monopoly on the desktop, and allowed MS to dictate to the OEMs what they (the OEMs) could do to sell their (the OEMs) hardware product. Microsoft's current difficulties is that they are unable to sucessfully carry out the same strategy on the mobile market.

From the historical record Microsoft under Gates, expended most effort engaging in shady legal practices, tieing up the OEMs in exclusive contracts and in 'innovating` product most similar to others already on the market.

"We have to stop putting any effort into this and make sure that Office documents very well depends on PROPRIETARY IE capabilities", Billg Gates Dec 1989

"Given that we are looking at the Internet destroying our position as the setter of standards and APIs do you see things we should be doing to use ACT assets to avoid this?", Bill Gates Apr 1995

"What features do we need to steal?" [from ClarisWorks], Feb 1998

"We need to follow Apple to a large degree .. Need to pick up key features added by Apple", Ebbe Altberg Feb 1998

"At some point we will have to consider the patents they [Star Office] violate", Bill Gates Dec 1998

http://edge-op.org/iowa/www.iowaconsumercase.org/

http://www.groklaw.net/staticpages/index.php?page=2005010107100653

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Boffin

but what about Bell labs?

As part of the old AT&T they made money licensing products, not making them. The basic semiconductor is one. They used to brag about a patent a day. I don't have a problem with Microsoft making money off of it's research. Teflon pots and pans come to mind. DuPont doesn't make pots and pans but that doesn't mean they didn't make a lot of money off an accidental discovery.

The idea of patents is to get ideas out where people can use them. Were the people who use Microsoft patent have been able to develop them on their own? Your article does not address this.

The biggest problem is that too many patents aren't novel, and that problem goes beyond Microsoft.

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Holmes

2nd generation leaders ...

... are always a bit shaky partly because they have a tough act to follow?

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Anonymous Coward

maybe but

Ballmer was there from the start - should have learned from the "tough act" and be able to "follow" just fine. Except that he's an idiot.

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Unhappy

Patents and Products

I have just submitted a patent in the US. One of the VC firms to which I was talking about producing the product was shocked that I actaully wanted to build it. They suggested the correct procedure was to file the patent then wait for somebody else to infringe then sue for damages. That way there was very few expenses, and much better chances for profit.

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He has a point IMO...

Innovation has never been a strong point of MS IMO. When they saw technology which somehow suited them and which they wanted to use in their own products they usually simply bought the company or ideas / designs and used them. Hardly much innovation here on that part.

But I don't think MS is failing to keep up with the market, quite the contrary. In a way I think MS is a good example as to some of the things which Open Source software (better put; the whole /movement/) has brought us and has achieved.

For example; back in the days the only thing you could do to gain access to MS Office environment was to either cough up some very serious bucks or to get it in an "alternative fashion". Nowadays there are Office products which sell for approx. E 120,- and are fully usable. And there are many other examples of that as well.. What to think about the ability to test a product for 60 days (like MS Expression 4 web designer) before you make a decision if you want to buy it or not ?

And where MS products used to be very heavily priced I'm currently seriously looking into Expression 4 myself simply because I can't afford stuff like Dreamweaver (I'm aware about the existence of stuff like Quanta and such, but right now I'm looking for a Windows alternative).

As to IP creation... I think in a way we see the same thing here. Back in the days the only way to legally get some developing environment for MS was to pay up big time. Now there are multiple freely available options which give you complete access to their .NET framework (VS C# Express for example). And without holding back on important details like information and documentation.

Now, I haven't really kept up with all this myself, but only recently discovered all this while remembering "other situations".

So no, I don't think MS has lost its ambition at all, the main issue here seems that they're not moving as "fast" as other companies do.

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Bronze badge

Windows Mobile

Microsoft already had their chance. Some years ago, in the days of PDAs and the XDA/MDA smart phones, Microsoft's PPC was the OS of choice for TomTom and others. Somehow, they managed to let it all slip away and Apple and Google are only too happy to step in.

Patents or not, Microsoft's continuing dominance is thanks to the lack of a viable alternative to MS Office in the corporate environment.

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Windows

Get rid of Balmer

Balmer is the problem. Get rid of him and things will change. Keep him at the top and Microsoft's steady decline will increase in speed. Maybe they're so behind in mobile for this reason- build no products, wait for someone else to build it, then sue for IP infringement. Shocked that Microsoft hasn't sued Apple and other Tablet makers. Maybe they are waiting for someone else to build a tablet that competes with the iPad.

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...and you think this is new?

There's not much that's new about this kind of behaviour from MS: http://www.tadag.com

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MS is no different than any other company

Oh, please companies take out patents and copyrights and charge for them all time. Bill Gates started MS research which is one of the largest patent holders. So why wouldn't they charge for their IP.

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where were you guys?

The idea that Microsoft used to be a major innovator is just phony nostalgia for a past that never was. Starting with DOS,the big products and ideas were acquired from others. They bought DOS, then they bought their a C compiler. They did a useless 8-bit knockoff of the Apple (Xerox) windowing system, and it went nowhere until a summer intern got that toy running in protected mode and someone at Microsoft got interested. The story continues in a similar vein. Now they're sitting on a mountain of cash managed by business-school grads like Phelps who have no real love for computers, software or even technology.

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Devil

MS innovation

The only innovation from MS that I've been able to discover thus far is the 'favicon'.

As mr Torvalds (reportedly) once said "there's nothing Bill Gates can tell me about computers, and nothing I can tell him about business".

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Alien

I'm having problems...

...thinking "Mr Ballmer" and "intellectual" in the same sentence...

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Figures?

I note that the article talks about such things as worrying about making money out of patents instead of worrying about their product. But Microsoft is not the *smallest* of companies. Can we not suppose that it has its fingers comfortably in more than one pie at a time? If you're going to talk about a company shifting its focus you need to talk about how much money they make from licencing MS Office, Windows, etcetera, vs, how much they make from the patent revenues. I suspect the real picture is not, as this article presents, MS shifting from producing product to being a company that gets by on patent licencing.

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