Microsoft Patent Portfolio Tops IT Industry Scorecards

Microsoft Patent Portfolio Tops IT Industry Scorecards

REDMOND, Wash. (RUSHPRNEWS) January 28, 2008- Q&A: Bart Eppenauer, Microsoft chief patent counsel and associate general counsel, discusses how and why the company has achieved the top ranking in two leading industry indexes for patent portfolio quality.

Name: Victor Bahl

Title: Principal Researcher and founding manager, Networking Research Group, Microsoft Corporation

Areas of Research: Wireless system design, mobile networking, wireless location systems

Number of Patents: 42 issued U.S. and international patents, with 115 more applications pending

Background:

• PhD in Computer Systems Engineering from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst
• Joined Microsoft in 1997
• Fellow of the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) and the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic
• Engineers) for contributions and leadership in wireless systems design
• Has published more than 80 scientific papers

Quote: “Innovation in systems design is about asking the right questions, like ‘What else can we do with the wireless network infrastructure that already exists inside many buildings for applications?’ Working on that question led to the first indoor Wi-Fi system for locating mobile devices and people.”

PressPass: What roles have Microsoft researchers and developers had in moving the company up on these IP rankings?

Eppenauer: Several years ago, we looked at some industry benchmarks and found that we were actually behind the curve in terms of patents filed per R&D dollar invested. It wasn’t because our researchers and developers were any less productive, but because we weren’t capturing all of our innovations through the patent process. More recently, we’ve been making a conscious effort to correct this. I think our developers have gained a greater appreciation for the importance of IP and patent filings and what constitutes a strategic patent. And I think the rankings clearly show the quality and strength of the inventions of our researchers and developers.

PressPass: Is being highly ranked on these patent scorecards of any real value to Microsoft?

Eppenauer: Absolutely. Aside from the recognition it gives to our R&D people, it gives Microsoft increased standing in addressing issues with policy-makers exploring ways to improve or reform the patent system for the benefit of all patent holders. And it validates and gives enhanced credence to the value of Microsoft’s IP portfolio for the increasing number of companies entering into IP collaboration and licensing agreements with Microsoft. Our IP licensing efforts enable the innovations we have created through our R&D efforts to be both recognized by and shared with the IT ecosystem as a whole. A high quality patent portfolio also gives our customers and partners the assurance that Microsoft is committed to strong IP protection. For our industry as much as any other, IP is the currency of innovation.

PressPass: What kind of changes do you think could help improve the patenting process?

Eppenauer: Some of the key changes relate to what industry can do to help solve some of the challenges facing patent offices worldwide. For example, we understand the demand that the IT and other industries have placed on the world’s patent offices because of the accelerated pace of innovation we all have fostered. So we believe that it is only right that Microsoft and other like-minded industry participants work collaboratively with patent offices and universities around the globe to help facilitate technological solutions to some of those challenges. Specifically, we want to work collaboratively with others in areas like automated machine language translation, sophisticated prior art searching and analysis tools and technology to interconnect examiners from around the world in a secure collaborative workspace. All of these initiatives could help with one of the biggest issues facing the world’s patent offices today — the duplication in examination workloads that contributes to increasing application backlogs.

PressPass: Is the primary value of patents that they can give companies a leg up on their competitors?

Eppenauer: That certainly is one view, but an interesting transition has taken place in the world of patents and intellectual property. IP’s true function in society and the world of business today is no longer to serve solely as a club against competitors. This role has been supplanted in many respects by IP’s ability to serve as a bridge to collaboration. Patents enable innovation and collaboration, they do not stifle it. That is what our efforts with companies like Novell, Samsung and many others have proven.

PressPass: Can you give us some examples of some patents that help Microsoft partner with other companies?

Eppenauer: Definitely. One good example is the technology behind Exchange ActiveSync, a feature of Microsoft Exchange Server. Exchange ActiveSync lets wireless devices like cell phones and pocket PCs access information on a server that is running Microsoft Exchange Server. This lets mobile users access their e-mail, calendar, tasks and contact information, and retain access to this information while they are offline. Exchange ActiveSync uses a wireless connection between the server and the cell phone or PDA, so it doesn’t require access to a desktop computer, cradle or desktop synchronization software. The result is a faster, easier connection. That’s why many mobile phone manufacturers – including Nokia and Motorola – license this technology from Microsoft and incorporate it into their products.

Another is Windows Live Photo Gallery, which makes sharing photos easier by letting users organize and upload individual photos or albums from their PC to Windows Live Spaces. It’s one of the few services available today that takes a “network” approach to digital photo sharing. In December 2007, Samsung Electronics released a new Digital Photo Frame that is based on this patented technology developed by Microsoft Research. This wireless product lets customers display photos from sharing sites such as Windows Live Spaces or from their PCs.

PressPass: We’re more used to thinking of patents as a means of keeping secrets than of sharing information.

Eppenauer: Patents as knowledge-sharing tools may seem counterintuitive at first. After all, patents do give their owners the right to exclude others from using a technology. But even in this case, denying use is very different from denying to others the knowledge of the new technology, which patents by law are required to disclose.

PressPass: So, what do you say to those who believe Microsoft has come to prominence by going it alone?

Eppenauer: The truth is that we’ve entered into numerous cross-licensing deals and IP arrangements with other firms in order to share our patent portfolio, to gain greater freedom to innovate and also to mitigate any potential legal conflicts. Some agreements have even been with direct competitors, such as our November 2006 patent cooperation agreement with Novell, a leading provider of Linux and other open-source software.

We have also expanded our collaborative projects with top universities around the globe. These partnerships let us take part in truly groundbreaking, cutting-edge research that might not have immediate commercial application but nonetheless gives us important insights into the future of IT innovation.

And finally, many of our IP licensing programs are aimed at promoting interoperability between Microsoft’s and others’ software products.

PressPass: These licensing programs are also very lucrative, aren’t they?

Eppenauer: Microsoft isn’t in the licensing business for the money. Even in an optimistic scenario, licensing revenues would amount to only a small amount of Microsoft’s annual revenue. Far more important to us are the opportunities for collaboration with other leaders and innovators in the technology industry.

The days of the self-contained, go-it-alone company are over. Open innovation is one of the keys to Microsoft’s future competitiveness. In today’s world, open innovation is simply smart business; in tomorrow’s, it will be an absolute necessity.

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