Ina Fried, from CNET.com, reported this week that Microsoft filed a patent infringement case against SalesForce.com. SalesForce.com is, among other things, a customer relations management (CRM) software company that provides its product through the cloud. Microsoft is no stranger to patent lawsuits. In fact, they were just ordered to pay $200 Million to Virnet X in a patent infringement lawsuit regarding VPN technology. However, the peculiar thing about the lawsuit filed against SalesForce.com was that it was Microsoft doing the suing. Microsoft has only filed 4 suits against competitors. Most infringement issues involving Microsoft commonly end up in some type of license agreement with the alleged infringer. (See HTC) From this Microsoft receives damages and then licenses their technology to the competitor. However, there appears to be more uncertainty surrounding this case.
It is no secret Microsoft is one of the more established players in the IT world. However, Microsoft, along with everyone else has been losing ground to Google. Microsoft and Google are competitors in e-mail (Gmail/Hotmail), browsers (chrome/IE), search engines (Bing/Google), electronic documents (Office/Google docs), and soon in operating systems (Windows/Chrome OS). Microsoft is attempting to chase Google into the cloud computing realm, as evidenced by the direction Office 2010 and other products are trending. The lawsuit against Salesforce.com might be just another way to gain ground. One of the benefits of being in the game as long as Microsoft has is that they have ownership to some of the foundational technology we all use today. Take a look at the subject matter referenced in these patents:
Ø 7,251,653: Method and system for mapping between logical data and physical data
Ø 5,742,768: System and method for providing and displaying a web page having an embedded menu
Ø 5,644,737: Method and system for stacking toolbars in a computer display
Ø 6,263,352: Automated web site creation using template driven generation of active server page applications
Ø 6,542,164: Timing and velocity control for displaying graphical information
Ø 6,281,879: Timing and velocity control for displaying graphical information (the 164 patent above looks to just be a continuation of this patent)
Ø 5,845,077: Method and system for identifying and obtaining computer software from a remote computer
Ø 5,941,947: System and method for controlling access to data entities in a computer network
All of these patent subjects are associated with cloud computing factors. This is no surprise since Salesforce.com is run from the cloud, but it does question what Microsoft will do next? Will they pursue other companies that infringe on the broad patents? Are they trying to get enforcement out of their patents before the Supreme Court returns an opinion on In re Bilski? Are they just trying to get another license agreement?