More about IP, less about People’s Asses

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Good morning, all.

On Tuesday, I posted a little note on an absurd (and probably useless) patent. This post also contained some of my thoughts regarding the USPTO and a lawyer’s ass, which appears to have been the part that really resonated with most people. In an effort to be taken seriously as a scholar and pundit, I will attempt to complete today’s post on intellectual property issues without mentioning asses at all.

Subscribers to the feed for this blog will have noticed a recent string of del.icio.us links related to Sender ID:

So where have we ended up? As far as I’m concerned it means that we’re right back where we were prior to the SPF/MS merger. Microsoft will use Sender ID for Hotmail and MSN email, AOL will implement SPF, and — because there’s no single 900 pound gorilla of a standard now — Yahoo will probably push to get their Domain Keys scheme adopted more widely. We may even have slipped back a step or two from the pre-convergence position, due to the general ill will that seems to have accumulated during this process.

Why are we here? Because MS feels that it is more important to own the IP used to authenticate the sender of an email message than it is to get a single, consistent approach to authenticating email senders.

I don’t believe that MS would/will ever try to directly make money off of this by charging licensing fees, as I’ve seen some people suggest; indirectly, however…well, having clear, legal control over who could use this technology and what they could do with it would be rather <ahem> valuable to MS.

Take Microsoft’s recent, public push to focus on patents and IP, the publicity that their R&D focus has been getting, and the obvious difficulty of maintaining overwhelming market dominance in the face of both intense competition in every arena and a growing skepticism that MS software is really any better than the alternatives…well, if I were running Microsoft*, I’d have set a target of getting n% of new revenue from IP licensing by the end of 2006, with plans to increase n dramatically before 2010.

Anyway, the point here is that email sender authentication will move forward, but we’re kind of screwed — everyone has to keep up with at least two authentication schemes in order to send email to the two of the biggest inbox providers. It’ll be more complicated, it’ll confuse people more, and it will probably be less effective as a result.

If Microsoft were looking for a purely defensive patent, they could eliminate the issue by assigning the patent to a third party (as has been done with many OSS projects), but I don’t believe that will happen. If MS can’t own the IP then they’re going to gather up their toys, glare at the OSS community, and quote Cartman:

Screw you guys — I’m going home!

* Actually, if I were running Microsoft it would have gone out of business years ago, but that’s not really the point here.