Why Microsoft's "open" protocols may be wise to avoid

Microsoft made thousands of pages of documentation on its protocols and APIs open to all. Here's why taking a look may be bad business.

Still plowing through Van Lindberg's excellent book on open-source software law, and he discusses a court case that I somehow missed in three years of law school.

Van references IBM's efforts to keep PC clones out of the market. IBM apparently made its BIOS information (and source code) widely available as a way to poison the well. In other words, any engineers who saw the BIOS code and then attempted to reverse engineer it would be in violation of IBM's copyrights.

Hmm....While I believe Microsoft made its protocols available for public inspection due to pressure from the European Commission , the effect on developers is very similar to the IBM BIOS case. If I use the Microsoft documentation to reverse engineer or otherwise integrate Microsoft code or ideas into my own, I'm highly susceptible to a lawsuit.

This is why making information freely available, without associated IP grants freely available, perhaps does more harm than good. Code without rights is a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.


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