RealTime IT News

InterTrust Claims .NET, XP Infringe on Patents

Building on a complaint filed last April, InterTrust Technologies Corp. stoked the legal fires with a few more logs Thursday by claiming Microsoft Corp. has infringed on three patents involving digital rights management (DRM) technology.

Microsoft's .NET platform and Windows XP operating system are at the heart of the Santa Clara, Calif.-based DRM firm's charges; InterTrust said Microsoft is knowingly lifting technological schemas from patents numbered '891 and '912, in addition to the previously asserted patent No. 5,920,861, in its .NET implementation.

The complaint goes on to allege that certain "product activation" features of Windows XP, OfficeXP and other Microsoft products, infringe the claims of the '900 patent in addition to InterTrust's previously asserted patent No. 5,940,504.

InterTrust said it feels Microsoft has borrowed too much from its own building blocks, or "assemblies," which can be shared across the Web, all of which is a form of the red-hot concept of peer-to-peer (P2P) networking. Popularized by such music file-sharing sites as Napster Inc., P2P services are said by many analysts to be the next logical step in providing cost-effective services via the Web. Simply, P2P allows people to conduct transactions (think e-commerce) regardless of specific computing devices, platforms, locations, or application environments.

And while InterTrust is not claiming to be the founding forefather of P2P, it is going on record as saying that it is a founder with regard to an important element to P2P sharing, and by extension, Microsoft's .NET platform -- the idea of "trust," which ensures that digital policies can be securely established and enforced in a platform. This is where InterTrust is crying foul with regard to Microsoft's practices.

InterTrust said it has patents for its trust technologies going back to 1995.

In an interesting concession, InterTrust's Chief Technology Officer David P. Maher allowed that .NET "represents a significant technology milestone," before adding that it hits a little too close to InterTrust's home.

"Microsoft has employed many of the approaches that formed the basis of InterTrust's groundbreaking inventive work of the early 1990s," Maher said in a public statement. "The use of InterTrust inventions in .NET's architecture validates our long-held view of the trust requirements for distributed policy-based interaction."

Microsoft spokesman Jim Desler told InternetNews.com Thursday that it appeared InterTrust was on another "fishing expedition."

"This is a completely random complaint based upon what we've seen in our initial review," Desler said. "It appears that it is not connected at all to .NET infrastructure and based on what is in their filing, it appears they don't have the sligthrest of what .NET is all about. We're an IP company. We respect the rights of other IP companies and we prefer innovation over litigation."

But the implications of DRM infringement lie not just with .NET; it extends to many other wildly successful software products, all of which employ DRM. With the suit, InterTrust said it seeks unspecified damages and an injunction prohibiting further infringement, such as by Microsoft's continued distribution of its .NET implementation, Windows XP and Windows ME operating systems, Office XP, Visio2002, Windows Media Player, Microsoft Reader, Digital Asset Server products, and other Microsoft application, server, and operating system products.

Bill Coats, a partner and patent expert with Menlo Park, Calif.'s Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe has been following the DRM space for a while and said that it is no surprise that lawsuits will crop up, stemming from fierce competition.

"DRM is rapidly becoming such a lucrative market -- there are questions being addressed in legislature where people are considering making embedded DRM technologies in computers and other devices a requirement," Coats told InternetNews.com. "What I think we're seeing with InterTrust is that they are trying to find every bit as much as legal protection as they can. DRM is just one of those buzzwords and I think we'll see more firms jockeying for position [in the sector]."

InterTrust first embarked on the patent infringement case on last April, filing in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, with the complaint that Microsoft's .NET framework implementation infringes various InterTrust patents. The amended suit now alleges that Microsoft infringes on 7 InterTrust patents and InterTrust believes at least 50 separate patent claims.

No stranger to the arenas of legal proceedings, Microsoft earlier this year went on record denying InterTrust's infringement claims and Desler maintained the stance Thursday.

InterTrust also said there has been progress in hashing out a date for a Markman hearing, which interprets the patent claims. It said the Markman hearing may take place during the middle of 2002.