Microsoft today launched a searchable list of its complete patent portfolio as part of its defense of the patent system, particularly software patents.
The list is currently composed of nearly 41,000 U.S. and international patents assigned to Microsoft or one of its subsidiaries.
"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," said Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel, on a blog announcing the searchable list. "[And] transparency is a prerequisite to enforceability of patent licensing pledges. Quite simply, without transparency it is impossible to determine if a company is in fact abiding by those commitments."
Users can filter Microsoft's list by country, or search by patent number, the title of the patent, or the assignee. However, the list does not include the patent application date or when a patent was awarded.
More information about each patent must be retrieved from the granting agency's website, such as the one maintained by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
A 4.3MB file in .csv (comma-separated values) format is also available for download from the website; the file can be imported into, say, a spreadsheet for additional analysis.
Microsoft has been pushing patent transparency since February, when Smith argued that governments need to fix what's broken, but leave what's working untouched. Among the reforms he urged was more openness on who owned what, a stance contrary to of many major companies, which instead file patents through difficult-to-track subsidiaries.
After appearing before congressional staffers during a Washington, D.C., briefing Feb. 21, Smith promised that Microsoft would publish a list of its patents by April 1.
Today, Smith called on others to follow Microsoft's lead. "We urge other companies to join us in making available information about which patents they own," he said.
Although Smith did not name names, Google had to be on his mind: The two firms have been locked in legal battles over patents, including those now owned by Google after its acquisition of Motorola.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.