Microsoft: Not much to show for 10,000 patents

The software giant now has 10,000 patents, but its business doesn't seem to benefit from them. It's a nice symbolic achievement for Microsoft, but 10,000 products would be better.

Ina Fried of CNET News reports Tuesday on Microsoft's 10,000th patent, with Microsoft's chief patent counsel calling the milestone "a testament to all of the innovation that has been taking place."

Maybe. But innovation is what hasn't actually done Microsoft much good, at least as measured in terms of new product lines that generate material amounts of revenue for the company. It still gathers the vast majority of its revenue from Windows and Office, two product lines that have only incrementally improved (or, in the case of Vista, degenerated) over the past decade or two.

And, as Fried notes, Microsoft's patent horde has done little to help it defend itself from patent lawsuits, which have scaled up alongside the increasing size of its patent pile.

Given how much Microsoft has to lose from patent trolls, it's perhaps surprising that it, in turn, it has rattled its own patent saber against Linux, claiming violation of 235 of its patents.

Microsoft's chief patent counsel goes on to dub patents "the currency of innovation in our industry," but it's unclear what that currency buys Microsoft. Fame? Not really. Fortune? Nope, Microsoft already had that in Office and Windows, and patents haven't added much to the till.

Friends? Occasionally. Apple and Google have been fortunate beneficiaries of Microsoft's patents: ActiveSync is great (Microsoft) technology that makes Apple's iPhone much more useful and soon will do the same for Google's Android. But Brother, Samsung, and the other Microsoft patent rubes that have purchased protection from Linux? Not so useful.

Companies and people buy products, not patents. I'm sure that 10,000 patents is a nice symbolic achievement for Microsoft, but 10,000 products would be better.

Follow me on Twitter at mjasay.

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