No stranger to intellectual property litigation, Microsoft today launched a Web tool that lets anyone search its entire portfolio of 40,785 patents.
The idea, according to the software giant's general counsel, Brad Smith, is to create greater transparency, giving those who might otherwise illegally use Microsoft's patents without permission a way to find what intellectual property Microsoft owns.
"One of the fundamental objectives of the patent system is to provide notice regarding inventions -- not only the nature of what has been invented but who owns the patent," Smith wrote in a blog post.
What's more, Smith writes that Microsoft hopes other patent holders will offer similar windows into their intellectual property holdings. If all patent holdings were widely searchable, it would curb the abuse of the system by patent trolls who sue companies after products hit the market for infringing 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.
The new Web site, dubbed Patent Tracker, gives users a tool to search Microsoft patents by patent number, patent title, country, and whether the patent is held by Microsoft or a subsidiary. Users can also download a CSV file containing the entire list. (Shortly after the site debuted, it went down, notifying users that the page requested could not be found.)
Reducing patent litigation is a huge issue for Microsoft. The company is not only a massive patent holder; it is also a frequent target of patent suits. It's spent huge sums buying patents to protect itself from litigation. And it's continues to ring up legal fees for an ongoing patent dispute with Motorola, among others.
Microsoft is not alone in taking steps on its own in order to reform the patent system. Today, rival Google announced its pledge not to sue any user, distributor, or developer of open-source software on specified patents, unless first attacked.