Microsoft Defends RSS Moves

Microsoft’s history of adopting standards, only to kill them by putting in proprietary hooks, is so notorious even the Department of Justice had its own term for it: “embrace, extend and extinguish.”

So it’s understandable there was some trepidation when Microsoft  first started showing a great deal of interest in Real Simple Syndication (RSS) in 2005. RSS is an open method of distributing data, mostly newsfeeds.

It’s also more fragmented than the former Soviet Union, with nine different versions of RSS available. Tim Bray, the Sun engineer who first developed XML  in the late 1990s, has undertaken an effort to unify the protocol.

But Microsoft’s bear hug of RSS made a lot of people nervous. Late last week, the software giant was granted two patents, one that covers technologies used to find and consume feeds into a Web browser and another that covers the back-end methods described in the first patent.

The reaction was immediate. It may have been Christmas but there was no peace in the blogosphere. Dave Winer, developer of RSS 2.0, groused “Presumably they’re eventually going to charge us to use it” in his blog. The Mashable Blog chimed in: “That would all be great, if it wasn’t for the fact that Microsoft didn’t invent this stuff.”

Boards like Digg and Slashdot erupted in anger, while other people tried to calm the mob down, pointing out that Microsoft was not making claim to RSS. Nick Bradbury, author of popular RSS reader FeedDemon, attempted to allay concerns by pointing out that Microsoft was not attempting to patent RSS syndication, just its own creations, and suspected the company did it for legal defensive purposes.

Finally, on Tuesday, Sean Lyndersay, program manager lead for RSS at Microsoft, weighed in with his own blog update on the matter:

“First, these patents describe specific ways to improve the RSS end-user and developer experience (which we believe are valuable and innovative contributions) — they do not constitute a claim that Microsoft invented RSS.

“We have always fully acknowledged the innovators and supporters of RSS, like Dave Winer, Nick Bradbury and many others, and I can say, without hesitation, that I and my colleagues personally have the deepest respect for their invaluable contributions.”

He went on to point out that Microsoft has published its own RSS and Atom extensions under a Creative Commons license, and that Apple  and Google  have applied for their own patents as well, for their inventions.

But Lyndersay’s blog entry wasn’t enough for some. The first response to his blog read “Please go steal somebody else’s ideas, thank you. RSS is not M$’s to steal or patent!”

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