Microsoft buy comes with strings attached

A Florida company claims co-ownership of anti-spyware software scooped up by Microsoft this week in an acquisition.

Tech Industry
A software company that Microsoft acquired this week to help beef up computer security may come with a bug of its own--a company claiming ownership of the programs.

Sunbelt Software of Clearwater, Fla., on Friday confirmed reports that it has exclusive rights over certain aspects of the anti-spyware programs Microsoft gained in its acquisition of Giant Company Software on Thursday.

The exclusive rights claimed by Sunbelt mean only Sunbelt can legally create and distribute software development tools for Giant's programs. If legitimate, the claim means Microsoft would need permission from Sunbelt before letting software partners build links to Giant's programs, which are designed to combat spyware and spam. Without such links, the software may not work well with programs from third parties.

Sunbelt President Alex Eckelberry said he and executives from Microsoft are in cordial talks about a number of "business and technical issues" relating to the Giant acquisition. So far, the companies have had no disagreements or disputes, he said.

Microsoft issued a statement on Friday saying it will be the sole owner of all new versions of the Giant anti-spyware system that it develops, regardless of previous legal agreements between Giant and Sunbelt.

"There's nothing about these pre-existing commitments that will prevent us from bringing to market the product we think is needed and is right for our customers," said Amy Carroll, director of product management in Microsoft's security business and technology unit.

In addition, the company does not expect Sunbelt to restrict its ability to let other software developers tap its programs, Carroll said.

"We're very comfortable we will be able to offer software developer kits without running afoul of these agreements; we don't see that as an issue at all," she said.

Microsoft plans to honor a Giant contract and furnish Sunbelt with special updates through mid-2007 that enable Giant's programs to spot new kinds of spyware.

When it announced the acquisition, Microsoft said it planned to use Giant's technology to block spyware from infecting Windows PCs. Because of its popularity, Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser is a favorite target of spyware developers.

Spyware monitors people's activity on the Internet in order to steal passwords and log-in information. Another variety, called adware, delivers pop-up advertisements. The unwelcome software has become a huge annoyance for many unwitting computer users who've inadvertently downloaded the stuff while surfing the Web.

Programs from Giant, a 12-person company based in New York, can scan a person's PC for spyware and remove it. Microsoft intends to incorporate the technology into its products and expects to release a new version of the Giant product next month.

Some reports have said that Microsoft may eventually charge customers to use the tools to clean spyware off Windows, but the company has not yet made any announcement about pricing.

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