Redmond -- In a move that today stunned industry observers, Microsoft Corp (MSFT) has defused what is widely viewed as the biggest threat to its operating system monopoly by patenting the Open Source movement.
Open Source is considered to be the biggest rival to monolithic application and operating system development, methods epitomised by Microsoft but used by almost all other major software companies with the recent exception of Apple Computer (APPL). Instead of all work on a computer program being done in-house by one company, which then jealously guards the instructions needed to make it -- the "source code" -- the Open Source movement freely distributes the source code with the programs. It is there for anyone to examine, modify, tweak or, more importantly, fix. "Bugs often take a while to be discovered, tracked down and then fixed". said Raymond S. Eric, a leading light of the Open Source movement. "Instead of waiting for the company, a user can simply fix it himself". The user would be encouraged, though not forced, to make this change available to others but cannot charge money for it. "The Open Source concept has been proved in Linux, networking security and cryptography and it looks set for the big time" said Mr Eric. But now, perhaps not.
Microsoft appears to have nimbly side-stepped this threat by a clever use of intellectual property laws. In its patent, headed "Multi-Optional Nodeless Open Protocol Outsourced Licensing Yield", Microsoft has laid claim to a method for "program development by multiple authors given almost unrestricted access to source, subject only to the necessary conditions needed to self-support the enterprise". According to Microsoft spokesman Mr A.C. Doyle, it is a perfectly legitimate application: "Well, we knew we couldn't beat it, so we did a quick search of the USPTO [US Patent & Trademark Office] database to see if anyone else had registered it and when it was free, we thought 'sod it, it's as much of a 'process' as any other in the decided cases', so we nabbed it, along with a couple hundred other unclaimed things, like cold fusion, bottomless bit buckets and a machine to recycle 'chad' '."
Microsoft also reportedly paid $10,000 to acquire the opensource.org and monopoly.com domains, after sending around men in dark glasses to convince the former owners of the wisdom of this move.
The success of this initiative has spurred other efforts on the software giant's behalf. Microsoft is also expecting final evaluation of its Boies patent, which should end the long-running antitrust suit against it. The patent, "Effective Methods of Cross-Examination by the Utilisation of Contradictory Circumstantial Evidence", would mean that Microsoft would own all means of asking embarrassing questions and showing up inconsistencies by directly contradicting witnesses' testimony with their own previous words.
"Microsoft is finally taking as much control of the courtroom as it does of the desktop", said one observer, "although we hope they won't try to make us use active channels in court". Said Mr Doyle: "If the patent is approved, Mr Boies will now have to pay substantial licensing fees if he wishes to continue pursuing us in court, or change his methods to avoid infringing on it. Maybe he could stick to asking questions about the weather or the great new features of Windows 2000". If the patent is approved, there should also be no opposition to acquiring Mr Gates' ultimate objective, the patent on "The Use of Metal or Paper Medium as Currency", in which the Government would be forced either to use Microsoft-minted currency for circulation in the economy, or license the greenback. "We don't really want to get rid of our trusty old currency, but the nifty little OEM code and holographic sticker should help the treasury defeat counterfeiting, or money piracy as it would know be known," said Doyle. However, he refused to be drawn on claims that the licensing move might also require putting Bill Gates Jr's faces on all banknotes, claiming that only the ones on the front of the banknote might need to be replaced, perhaps in a compromise for putting Steve Balmer on the 20 dollar note. The Governments of several African and European countries are said already to have agreed, in principle, to start using MS-MoneyTM instead of their own currencies, as part of a Microsoft-sponsored equity for debt bail-out. But, as Mr Doyle conceded, "we don't really know how popular the MS-Drachma or MS-Mark would be among the populace".