Tuesday, October 04, 2005

MORE ON SUN'S PATENT GRANT: After having some questions regarding the motivation for Sun's recent patent grant, a reader pointed me to David Berland's excellent blog on ZDNet, which sheds light on the strategy being invoked by Sun.

Developers have been abuzz about Microsoft's recent decision to support Adobe's Portable Document file format (PDF) in the next version of its desktop productivity suite, currently called Office 12. The announcement by Microsoft appears to be tied to the current debate in government organizations on which software platforms the government organizations will be using.

More specifically, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is compiling a list of approved products for the 173 state agencies that employ some 80,000 people. During the decision-making process, Massachusetts instituted a policy that requires public documents to be stored and/or exchanged in one of two file formats – the OASIS-backed OpenDocument Format ODF) and Adobe's PDF. Since MS-Office support neither, it was effectively bumped from Massachusetts' list of approved products. Not only did the decision affect all state agencies and employees, but the many thousands of contractors that do business with the Commonwealth as well.

The reason for this decision is that the state government wanted did not want to have royalties being paid out every time someone wanted to view a public document. And based on their own definition of "open," state officials were concerned that Microsoft's file formats were too closed to make that goal possible. In an attempt to give pause to ODF-interested organizations, Microsoft publicly questioned whether ODF was susceptible to future patent threats.

Seeing that Microsoft's move started getting traction in the software community, Sun countered by making a guarantee to developers and users that they won't be sued for patent infringement when using or developing an implementation of ODF. This is pretty significant in terms of Sun's positioning to gain access to government systems (although I maintain that it won't do much to alleviate threats from other patent holders). According to David, "[g]iven the public nature of andaccessibilityy to Massachusetts' deliberations on the matter, the Commonwealth had created the equivalent of an on-line software wizard that will make it easy for other organizations to follow suit. Just cut, paste, and do some search and replaces. There isn't much else left to do except wait for Sun, IBM and others to race to fill the ODF solution void. "

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