Local organisations challenge Microsoft XML patent

By   |  June 29, 2005

South African free software advocates yesterday served patent \”request to surrender\” papers on Microsoft SA\’s legal representatives, urging the company to withdraw a patent (ZA200303346) it holds on XML-based word processing. The patent, titled \”Word processing document stored in a single XML file that may be manipulated by applications that understand XML\”, suggests that the software giant invented and owns the process of XML-based word processing.

Microsoft applied for the patent in April 2004, and it was granted two months later.

The group, which includes academics and Linux professionals, says South African patent laws exclude computer programs and the presentation of information from patentability. University of South Africa senior lecturer Bob Jolliffe, who delivered the letter to Spoor and Fisher, says the patent should never have been granted and is just one of many new software patents being applied for through the South African patent office.

Microsoft has applied for the same patent in Japan, the European Union, the US and New Zealand. The patent has been granted in New Zealand.

Jolliffe says the local patents office does not have the capacity to examine each application it gets and operates on the basis that it will review a patent \”if or when someone challenges it. The patent office itself does not subject a patent to an examination process.

\”My brief research indicates that there is currently a small, but steady, trickle of such patents being filed in our patent office. At the moment the rate of arrival is not too catastrophic,\” says Jolliffe, although he cautions that this appears to be on the increase.

\”We are not just picking on Microsoft, but the company is a pretty good barometer of what is going on.\”

Free software advocates reject software patents because they are viewed as stifling innovation rather than promoting it. (Learn more: Saving Europe from software patents, The danger of software patents)

Although Jolliffe will be the primary applicant at this stage he has the support of a number of local free software organisations including the Linux Professionals Association which endorses the action and will likely be the primary complainant should the matter be forwarded to legal proceedings.

Ryan Armstrong, chairman of the LPA, says the LPA considers software patents a threat to the livelihoods of its members.

Microsoft has applied for the same patent in the US. and has been rejected although the applicant is still able to appeal the rejection.

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