NZOSS files objection to Microsoft XML patent

Von Paul Brislen

The New Zealand Open Source Society has filed its objection to a Microsoft Corp. XML patent filed in New Zealand amid international moves to reject it elsewhere.

Microsoft has received a patent from the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) that covers "Word processing document stored in a single XML file that may be manipulated by applications that understand XML". However, the same patent has been rejected by the U.S. patent office and a request has been filed with South African patent officials for the patent"s rejection.

NZOSS president Peter Harrison says the objection filed in New Zealand closely resembles the reasoning given by the US patent office in its rejection of Microsoft"s submission.

"It"s a coincidence really. I spent a week researching it and really there are only so many obvious places to go looking for prior art."

Harrison says he was contacted by a South African university professor who alerted him to the U.S. rejection of the patent and he hopes this gives the NZOSS objection the legs it needs to overturn the New Zealand patent.

"I"ve spoken to Microsoft and hopefully we can have a meeting in the near future to discuss them withdrawing the patent as it stands."

Microsoft has applied for a second, similar patent in New Zealand and Harrison says it probably resembles a new patent Microsoft has applied for in the US. "We haven"t seen it yet so we don"t know for sure but that"s what we"re expecting," he says,.

But Microsoft"s platform strategy manager Brett Roberts describes the patent issue as something of a "storm in a teacup".

"This is not new ground. In the US there are 200 patents concerning XML and around 600 concerning HTML. Patents are a way of protecting developers" investments." Roberts says Microsoft New Zealand will be waiting to see what, if anything, IPONZ says about the objection.

"I"ve talked to customers and to partners as well as developers and they all think it"s a good idea so we"ll pursue it".

Roberts says the U.S. patent hasn"t been entirely rejected. "We learned recently that the U.S. patent office rejected some of the claims in our U.S. patent application due to prior art. However, there are some claims remaining in the U.S. patent application that the U.S. PTO did not reject and we intend to continue pursuing this patent application for the remaining claims," he says.

"In addition, we intend to prosecute the rejected claims in a continuation patent application."

Harrison says the NZOSS will be scrutinizing the second patent application to make sure it"s not too broad.

"That"s really what this is about. We"re opposed to overly broad patents and want to see them rejected.

"This isn"t about us versus Microsoft. The same applies to any obvious software patent issue."

Microsoft has also applied for XML patents in Japan and Europe as well as the U.S., South Africa and New Zealand. So far only IPONZ has accepted an XML patent from Microsoft.