Microsoft criticized for 'IPv6-like' patent

Software giant comes under fire for "yet another example of how patents can kill or inhibit standards."

Tech Industry
An antipatent organization has criticized Microsoft for filing a patent that's allegedly similar to IPv6, the next-generation Internet Protocol.

The Public Patent Foundation, or Pubpat, an organization that works to protect the public from damage caused by the patent system, claims that a patent that Microsoft filed a few years ago is invalid because it failed to disclose prior work done by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).

The U.S. patent, number 6101499--titled "Method and computer program product for automatically generating an Internet Protocol (IP) address"--was issued to Microsoft in 2000 after being filed in 1998.

Daniel Ravicher, the executive director of Pubpat, said that although he is not worried that Microsoft will assert its right over the patent, this may stop companies from using IPv6.

"Microsoft won't ever assert this patent--they know it's worthless," Ravicher said. "But there will still be people who are afraid of it--if someone has a gun and promises not to shoot it, it's still scary."

"This is yet another example of how patents can kill or inhibit standards," he said.

Pubpat was made aware of the patent when it was contacted by a "few large companies" that had been told about it by Microsoft.

Ravicher claims that a "significant number" of prior-art references were not disclosed to the U.S. Patent Office when Microsoft applied for the patent. These include documents from the IPv6 committee of the IETF. The Microsoft employees named as the inventors of the patent were on the IPv6 committee, according to Ravicher.

Because Microsoft has allegedly not disclosed the prior-art references to the patent office, the patent may not be enforceable.

Pubpat is urging Microsoft to throw out the patent. "The right thing for Microsoft to do is to abandon the patent and acknowledge that it should never have been granted in the first place," Ravicher said.

Microsoft was not available for comment.

The news comes only a week after Microsoft demanded reform of the U.S. patent system. Brad Smith, general counsel of the company, said at the time that there needed to be an improvement in patent quality.

Ingrid Marson of reported from London.

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