February 12, 2004 2:02 PM PST

Microsoft snags XML-related patent

Microsoft has been granted another U.S. patent for XML-related technology, one of the first in an expected flood of filings surrounding the fast-growing standard.

U.S. Patent 6,687,897, granted Feb. 3, is for "XML-based script automation." The method uses the XML (Extensible Markup Language) to combine multiple software scripts, including ones written in different languages, into a single file.

As previously reported, Microsoft and other software makers have applied for hundreds of patents in the United States and elsewhere surrounding new technology based on XML, a widely adopted standard for interchanging data between

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disparate computing systems. While the XML standard itself is open and free for anyone to use, technology that makes use of the standard is subject to the same intellectual property claims as any other area. Microsoft and others face the challenge of locking up pieces of their XML approach to maintain a competitive advantage while preserving interoperability between dissimilar computing systems.

"It's not just Microsoft--the major vendors are all trying to figure out what they can give away and what they can commercialize," said Ted Schadler, an analyst at Forrester Research. "I think the opinion on that changes situationally, day by day or week by week."

Microsoft earlier agreed to freely provide other software makers with the proprietary XML dialects, or schemas, used by its new Office 2003 software. But recent XML-related patent applications in Europe and elsewhere have sparked fears that the company may use patents to lock out competing XML-based applications.

David Kaefer, director of business development at Microsoft, has said the company will license XML-related innovations it patents with a mix of paid and royalty-free licenses, as it has done with other technologies. "It comes down to what offers the best benefits for customers and partners," he said.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office lists about 100 issued patents related to XML and more than 500 pending applications, including multiple filings from Microsoft, IBM and other technology giants.


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