Microsoft today made good on a pledge from earlier this year that it would publish by April 1, on the Web, information that would allow anyone to determine which patents the company owns.
The company today is launching its “patent tracker tool,” which allows users to download the entire list of patents owned by Microsoft or its subsidiaries, or to search by region, patent number or patent title.
For more details of any particular patent, the user will then have to turn to tools provided by the issuing government. For instance, for patents issued in the U.S., people can use the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Web-based search tool.
The company plans to update the tracker tool regularly, though a schedule for the updates hasn’t been set yet.
Microsoft’s patent tracker tool fulfills a pledge made by the company’s general counsel, Brad Smith, last month. He had said that Microsoft would make clear its own patent holdings, while urging other companies to do the same.
It’s part of a push the company is making toward reforms in the U.S. patent system. Microsoft is calling for increased transparency in the current system, a loser-pays rule in patent litigation as a way of curbing what it calls frivolous lawsuits, and improved quality on patents by raising the bar on how patents are examined for approval by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
“Transparency around patent ownership will help prevent gamesmanship by companies that seek to lie in wait and ‘hold up’ companies rather than enable a well-functioning secondary market,” Smith wrote in a blog post about the tracker tool. “Of equal importance, transparency is a prerequisite to enforceability of patent licensing pledges, whether to standards bodies or to the world at large. Quite simply, without transparency it is impossible to determine if a company is in fact abiding by those commitments.”
Microsoft and other tech companies are currently embroiled in patent battles that span the globe — some of them involving whether companies are living up to licensing pledges — even as many of the companies and government officials talk of a need for further patent reforms.
In recent years, there’s also been a marked increase in the number of patent lawsuits filed by patent-assertion entities — sometimes referred to as “patent trolls” — companies that don’t manufacture or produce products but instead assert patents as a business model, according to a Reuters report.