XML Users Facing Patent Shakedown

A small software developer plans to seek royalties from companies that use XML, the latest example of patent claims embroiling the tech industry.

The US software company Scientigo owns two patents covering the transfer of “data in neutral forms.” These patents, one of which was applied for in 1997, are infringed upon by the data-formatting standard XML, Scientigo executives assert.

Scientigo intends to “monetise” this intellectual property, Scientigo chief executive Doyal Bryant said this week.

Rather than seek royalties itself, Scientigo has forged a tentative agreement with an intellectual-property licensing firm that will handle contracts with third parties, Bryant said. A final agreement could be announced early next week, he said.

“We’re not interested in having us against the world. We’re just looking for ways to leverage an asset we have pretty concrete proof that makes us feel comfortable saying it is an asset,” Bryant said.

Scientigo’s claims are the latest to crop up in an industry that is sharply divided over the role of patents.

Advocates argue that the patent system protects intellectual property as intended. Detractors, including those who call for the elimination of software patents, say that patents make it simpler for businesses — sometimes pejoratively dubbed “patent trolls” — to legally prey on unsuspecting software users.

The respone from another company operating in the software industry came right away. A representative from IBM said that its intellectual property lawyers had not yet heard of Scientigo’s claim.

Microsoft declined to say whether it has spoken to anyone from Scientigo. In general though, the company minimised the effect of its patent claims on something as legally well-protected as XML. Â

“XML has been around a long time, and people shouldn’t assume any one patent has broad implications. Often, patents are quite narrow and mostly irrelevant to the industry at large,” David Kaefer, a Microsoft director of business development in charge of IP licensing.

Meanwhile, the W3C has not been contacted by Scientigo, according to spokeswoman Janet Daly.Â

Daly noted that companies or even individuals often make patent claims on XML. For example, Microsoft, which uses XML as the foundation of many of its products, was awarded a patent for programming techniques related to XML

“Regularly there are small companies or even individuals who have one or two or 10 patents. And when the company doesn’t do very well, the patents become a means of revenue,” Daly said.

Scientigo does fit the profile of companies looking to buttress their finances by better commercialising their intellectual property.

On Friday, he intends to fly to the West Coast of the US and finalise an agreement with an IP licensing firm, a move he hopes will validate Scientigo’s claims.

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