Microsoft Seeks Patent on Timed S/W Licenses

Microsoft has applied for a patent on a software licensing technology that could be used to bill users for the time they spend computing, just as if they were paying for minutes spent using a PC at an Internet cafe or like feeding the parking meter for their car.

It could turn out to be an important piece of technology in Microsoft’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) evolving vision of services-in-the-cloud that work seamlessly with a mesh of PCs, TVs, and mobile phones. If granted, it could change the way users pay for computing in the cloud services universe.

Just don’t run out of change.

The application’s abstract describes it as a method “for issuing a number of different types of time-based licenses.” Lawyers for Microsoft filed the patent application in April 2008, according to the date of the document posted online by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). It was made public Thursday.

The types of licensing scenarios described in the application are far more pragmatic than analogies can convey, with things like ways to enable software for timed trial periods and to be able to reset the timer or provide a grace period. The application states that the requested patent deals with multiple ways of using time-based licenses with software.

“The licensing business models may include … a non-renewable evaluation license, a renewable trial license, a one-time promotion license, and a subscription license,” the application’s abstract said. “In some embodiments, a configurable parameter may indicate an amount of time for a grace period after a time-based license would have normally expired.”

Like many large companies, part of Microsoft’s research and development strategy includes stockpiling patents as a form of protection to ward off so-called ‘patent trolls’ as well as to counter competitors, and to pursue alleged infringers.

The latest application was first noted by blogger John Cook on the Puget Sound Business Journal‘s TechFlash site.

These days, it seems as if Microsoft is constantly embroiled in one lawsuit or another regarding patents. For example, the company currently is in various stages of fighting at least four major patent infringement cases.

Even an extensive portfolio of patents may not always provide a decisive win. Last month, for instance, a judge rejected a $358 million damage award against Microsoft but still found the company guilty of infringing a patent owned by Alcatel-Lucent.

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