November 9, 2004 4:18 PM PST

Should Microsoft own antispam?

WASHINGTON--Internet companies said Tuesday that they're racing to roll out better methods to block junk e-mail, but have not resolved long-standing differences over how much influence Microsoft will have over the final technology.

Microsoft's effort to convince the Internet Engineering Task Force to adopt its patented technology for e-mail authentication failed in September amid concerns it would cede too much control over the future of worldwide correspondence to one company. Since then, no progress has been made toward a resolution, engineers and lawyers said at a summit convened here by the Federal Trade Commission and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Key Internet standards currently are "freely available, no patent licensing from Microsoft," said Daniel Quinlan, a vice president of the Apache Software Foundation. "We want to make sure it stays that way for e-mail and other important parts of the Internet."

Quinlan's group, a nonprofit association, maintains the popular SpamAssassin software. In a statement, the foundation said Microsoft's proposal to authenticate senders of e-mail messages was "expressly incompatible" with the way the open-source development and distribution process works.

The summit, which ends Wednesday, comes as U.S. companies are becoming increasingly concerned about the problem of junk e-mail and "phishing" solicitations for personal data.

Some summit participants said they didn't care what standard was adopted--as long as it stopped the flow of fraudulent e-mail and Viagra solicitations. Visa, for instance, said Tuesday that it strongly endorsed the concept of e-mail authentication methods--but didn't reveal whether it preferred Microsoft's Sender ID, Yahoo's DomainKeys, or Cisco Systems' Identified Internet Mail.

David Kaefer, a director of Microsoft's patent licensing office, said Apache and other open-source advocates were ignoring "commercial realities" that require his employer to retain substantial control over its patents.

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