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Microsoft Moves To Patent Time-Based Software Licensing 118

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the how-can-we-squeeze-the-customer-more dept.
theodp writes "Microsoft's Open Value Subscription offering didn't get the warmest reception. Nor did the follow-up announcement of Albany, a planned MS-Office Subscription Service. Now comes word from the USPTO that Microsoft feels it deserves a patent for the 'invention' of 'Time-Based Licensing,' which aims to make the traditional pay-once perpetual license model a thing of the past. Hey, if your customers were waiting nine years between OS upgrades, you'd try touting a three-year lease with a balloon buy-out payment, too!"
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Microsoft Moves To Patent Time-Based Software Licensing

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  • by iYk6 (1425255) on Friday October 09, 2009 @06:28PM (#29699457)

    Microsoft feels it deserves a patent for the 'invention' of 'Time-Based Licensing,' which aims to make the traditional pay-once perpetual license model a thing of the past.

    If they successfully patent time-based software licensing, wouldn't that make the traditional model a more viable solution?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by clong83 (1468431)
      That's what I was thinking. I would assume that would then mean Microsoft were the only ones doing it... Or they would be charging other firms that want to do the same, thus making a less attractive option. If Microsoft wants to patent being a douche, more power to them.
      • by sopssa (1498795) *

        As usual on slashdot regarding patents, everyone forgets that they are quite explicit about the actual patent claims. Atleast these hit my eye:

        13. The processing device of claim 8, wherein the memory further comprises instructions for changing a type of a license from a first type to a second type.

        14. The processing device of claim 8, wherein the memory further comprises instructions for changing a time-based license to a perpetual license based on a number of activations of the time-based license.

        15. A tangible machine-readable medium having instructions recorded thereon for at least one processor, the instructions comprising:instructions for validating and using a received time-based license of any one of a plurality of types, the time-based license having a plurality of configurable parameters defining properties of the time-based license; andinstructions for displaying, an amount of time before a valid time-based license expires.

        16. The tangible machine-readable medium of claim 15, wherein the instructions further comprise instructions for providing a user interface to permit a user to enter time-based license commands and to view information with respect to a time-based license.

        17. The tangible machine-readable medium of claim 15, wherein the instructions further comprise instructions for displaying to a user a message warning of an impending license expiration at predetermined time periods before a time-based license expires.

        18. The tangible machine-readable medium of claim 15, wherein the instructions further comprise:instructions for granting a right to use a fully enabled software product associated with the time-based license when the time-based license has remaining time, andinstructions for not granting the right to use the fully enabled software product when the time-based license has no remaining time.

        19. The tangible machine-readable medium of claim 15, wherein the instructions further comprise:instructions for displaying information regarding a time-based license, andinstructions for executing the instructions for displaying an amount of time before a valid time-based license expires, at a predetermined time period before expiration of the valid time-based license.

        20. The tangible machine-readable medium of claim 15, wherein the instructions further comprise:instructions for providing an application program interface for an application to request activation of a time-based license.

        And like is even stated in the patent description:

        [0002]Some existing systems issue licenses for a predetermined period of time. However, the systems are not flexible enough to issue licenses suitable for a number of different licensing business models.

        Read the whole thing [uspto.gov] before jumping into stupid conclusions.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by kent_eh (543303)
          Does anyone have a human-readable version of this?
          • if you add the -h parameter to the call, it should format it properly for human readable I believe.
            • by mikiN (75494)

              I have to inform you that adding a -h parameter to an application invocation to instruct it to produce human-readable output is patented by us. If you do not already have a license agreement with us for using the -h parameter in your application, please contact our sales department.

              Any use of the -h parameter in this way without a proper license agreement with us will be considered patent infringement and will result in legal action to the fullest extent of the law.

        • by rtb61 (674572)

          Hmm, substitute 'internet' for 'software' and 'service' for 'licence' and, you pretty much have the typical system for altering the nature of your internet connection online, for number of, period, capacity and speed. Sounds like some tea leaf (that's cockney rhyming slang nothing to do with crazy republicans) at M$ documented their ISP's system and is trying to patent it because it hasn't been patented yet. It should have been really obvious and recognisable to all the M$ executives all the way up the lin

        • by thogard (43403)

          That sounds very much like they trying to get a patent on something they just fought in court.

        • by MrMr (219533)
          I can jump to stupid conclusion very well without reading folkloristic software patents, thank you.
      • Or they would be charging other firms that want to do the same...

        Probably using some kind of Temporal-Increment Adjusted Use-Royalties Scheme... hmmm, sounds like the perfect time to patent a Recursive Licensing Method!

    • by camperslo (704715) on Friday October 09, 2009 @06:42PM (#29699621)

      NASA please test!

      It's believed there may be water in the soil in Redmond

      • NASA please test!

        It's believed there may be water in the soil in Redmond

        bthis time, please use a nuke so we're guaranteed to see the dust plume.

        After all, nuking them from orbit is the only way to be sure!

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Tablizer (95088)

        NASA please test! It's believed there may be water in the soil in Redmond

        That's not water, it just looks like water from afar. It's a blue screen with little white letters.
                 

    • I guess I can patent the "time-based licensing" of Tupper Ware? I think the Patent Office should invest in a cheap Thesaurus I would even give them mine from college, you know, "it's for the kids", and to, "fight terrorism".
      • Slashdot fsck-up on patent terminology yet again.
        This is a published patent application, which has not yet been examined at all. Check its status on PAIR (12/099137 is the application number) and you will see "Docketed new case - Ready for examination", which merely means they've submitted enough paperwork and fees that an examiner will read the thing soon. If you're a bit masochistic, you could go to the Image File Wrapper and read the official correspondence between the applicant's attorney and the PTO,
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by ffreeloader (1105115)

          Hmmm.... And here I could have sworn people were mocking MS just for applying for this patent, not for being awarded a patent.

    • by aurizon (122550)

      This is very exciting, you can have books licensed this way. After a while the pages go blank, or they go to a reduced functionality where all the vowels vanish, then the consonants, in frequency of use sequence, until all that is left are the Qs, four of them.
      Yes, the four Q screen of death(pages also go blue then).
      The potential is unlimited...

    • by ergodik (1003556)
      More than ever "Viva Linux"
    • My bet is that this application is to cover the method that is embedded in Windows-7. The implication is that any hack of the licensing scheme would be a patent violation in addition to theft of service/ product. For example Win-7 Beta has a timer after which it will begin to throttle itself to a max up time of two hours. Beyond that it will eventually stop working sometime after the updates fail. I tried and tired of Win-7 and replaced it with Ubuntu.
  • Matlab (Score:5, Informative)

    by volpe (58112) on Friday October 09, 2009 @06:31PM (#29699497)

    Invention? What the heck are they talking about? My Matlab license has been time-based for years. I remember one day Matlab stopped working for me because I never got around to entering the new license number that our IT folks emailled me a few weeks earlier.

    • Re:Matlab (Score:5, Funny)

      by Tablizer (95088) on Friday October 09, 2009 @06:45PM (#29699663) Homepage Journal

      Invention? What the heck are they talking about? My Matlab license has been time-based for years. I remember one day Matlab stopped working for me because I never got around to entering the new license number that our IT folks emailled me a few weeks earlier.

      I find htat venders uzwolly forgit to tern off feeturs. Four exampul, my spail chekker lisense ran out, butt it steal fixes all my werds just fyne, flaging and perviding opshuns az uzwoll. Woodent that bee funnie iff it listed rong werds aftur? Ha, I probly woodent notiss teh differns anyhowl.
             

    • Re:Matlab (Score:4, Funny)

      by networkBoy (774728) on Friday October 09, 2009 @07:35PM (#29700019) Homepage Journal

      prior to expiring you should have used Matlab to brute force the algorithm for generating keys...
      But you forgot to do that, so you had to go and retrieve that e-mail. How silly.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Linker3000 (626634)

      Back in the early 90s one CAD vendor (no, not that one) had a novel approach to licence renewal..

      We got a call from one of our big customers saying that a number of machines in the drawing office had popped up a cryptic message saying that there was a problem with an installed application and to stop using the computer otherwise data may be lost. I rushed over to find that the company had ordered all staff off their (networked) PCs and had shut them down in case there was a spreading virus.

      I isolated one PC

  • This patent is absurd.

    Ok, let's collect up the prior art and kill this patent in it's tracks.

    • Don't waste effort on this one. As others said, this is actually helpful :)

      • Don't waste effort on this one. As others said, this is actually helpful :)

        If Microsoft wants to patent being a douche, more power to them.

        That is how it is useful.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      So.. we can have more time based software licensing? Yeah, I'll get right on that.

      I was once part of an in house testing group of a software package. Even in pre alpha stage dev, they time limited the testing builds. I guess it was to entice us to always test with the latest, rather than the stable version from last month. That's about the only good use of it I've known.

    • by DragonWriter (970822) on Friday October 09, 2009 @06:54PM (#29699765)

      This patent is absurd.

      It is (like every patent described on Slashdot) described poorly.

      The patent is not a business-model patent for time-based licensing, its a technology patent for a specific scheme of enforcing time-based licensing rules.

      The way its described in TFS there would certainly be massive prior art. I'm less sure about the particular scheme they're actually trying to patent.

      Though, from the description in TFA, regardless of prior art, the scheme seems painfully obvious, so I wouldn't be surprised if existing time-based licenses use this enforcement scheme already.

      • by julesh (229690) on Friday October 09, 2009 @08:24PM (#29700309)

        The patent is not a business-model patent for time-based licensing, its a technology patent for a specific scheme of enforcing time-based licensing rules.

        No, it isn't. The claims of the patent are so ridiculously vague they would cover any such technology. Here's claim 1:

        "1. A machine-implemented method for licensing a software product, the machine-implemented method comprising:generating a time-based license from among a plurality of types of time-based licenses in response to receiving a request for the time-based license, each of the plurality of types of time-based licenses having a plurality of configurable parameters, a combination of the plurality of types of time-based licenses and the plurality of configurable parameters being capable of accommodating a plurality of licensing business models; andsending the time-based license to an originating processing device of the request for the time-based license."

        This patent would cover any automated software licensing business offering multiple types of limited time licenses, and is therefore a business model patent, not a technology one.

        The more specific claims don't add much, either:

        2 - some licenses are renewable
        3 - supports a restriction on how many times the software can be reactivated
        4 - product keys that can be used on a specified number of computers
        5 - system for switching to a permanent license after a certain number of limited ones
        6 - (I don't understand this claim; can somebody translate for me?)
        7 - some licenses might not start immediately
        8 - computer with the above scheme in memory
        9-14 - covers a management user interface, really boring stuff
        15 - above scheme stored on machine-readable media
        16 - a command line interface to license management
        17 - displaying a warning when the license is about to expire
        18 - making the software stop working when the license expires
        19 - informing the user how long the software will continue working for
        20 - an api whereby a program can query whether it is licensed or not

        Seriously. This is all _basic_ stuff, and covers just about every possible implementation, not just a single implementation of the idea.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by thejynxed (831517)

          My copy of Kaspersky Antivirus does much of what they are claiming:

          Claims 1, 2, 4, 9-15, 17-20 for sure.

          In fact, most AV software works in this manner, and has for years.

        • by srmalloy (263556)

          6 - (I don't understand this claim; can somebody translate for me?)

          There are several different types of licenses, of different durations, and a range of possible product keys, and there is some method to assign product keys to each type of license, with additional information being stored that tells the license-management system whether a product key can be shifted from one license type to another. I.e., the system could designate a particular license key as being valid for 30 days after first activation, and convertible to a full license, while another license key could b

      • by sabs (255763)

        Doesn't WoW and every MMORPG in the world use this scheme :)

    • by Zordak (123132) on Friday October 09, 2009 @07:57PM (#29700127) Homepage Journal

      This patent is absurd.

      Two things. One, this is not a patent. It's an application. You can put literally anything you want in a publication, and it will get published after 18 months, even though nobody's looked at it. I could file an application, and my first claim could be, "I claim a data storage device comprising a magnetic platter containing a plurality of magnetic bits, each bit configured to have two states, wherein each state represents alternately a 0 or a 1." That application would publish after 18 months with that claim, and everybody on /. would be hoppin' mad that I'd gotten a patent on the hard drive. And they would be completely wrong. Just because you ask for a particular, broad claim, doesn't mean you're going to get it.

      Second, I doubt that you've done anything close to the analysis to even know if the filed claims are "absurd." What do the claims say? Do you know? What disclosure supports them? Does the disclosure have any limiting definitions or statements? Is there any file wrapper estoppel? Are the claims statutory subject matter under Bilski? I'm betting you don't know, which means you don't know if these claims are absurd or not.

      • We would all (correctly) think your a douche for trying to patent hard drives.

        I claim a data storage device comprising a magnetic platter containing a plurality of magnetic bits, each bit configured to have two states, wherein each state represents alternately a 0 or a 9"
        rule no1, of patent obfusation, always make your system sound more complex than it has to!

    • ...because it's too blatantly obvious.

  • Hi, Microsoft! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SecurityGuy (217807) on Friday October 09, 2009 @06:34PM (#29699543)

    Name's flexlm. I see you're new around here, and determined to reinvent everything that was done on *nix 30 years ago.

    But seriously--what here is new? Time based licensing has been around forever. Get the feeling they're just flailing around trying to find some revenue model that'll continue to extract money out of their customers? Microsoft's fundamental problem is that they've already sold many people what they need. XP works fine for me. I don't need Vista. Or 7. Office is fine. I don't care about the next round of bells and whistles. Most of what most of us do doesn't require them.

    I don't really begrudge them some kind of revenue, but the more they demand, the better alternatives (OpenOffice, Google Docs, or hell, just buying a mac and being done with it) look.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by garcia (6573)

      Name's flexlm. I see you're new around here, and determined to reinvent everything that was done on *nix 30 years ago.

      I see you're new around here and determined to think I give a flying fuck about you and what you know about how computer licensing should work. Thankfully you aren't my target market. My target market is corporate IT, moron Mr. and Mrs. Blow, and anyone else that wants to buy a machine that's priced below $599 and who still want to be able to use the same media, documents, etc that they do e

      • by mikelieman (35628)

        "I see you're new around here and determined to think I give a flying fuck about you and what you know about how computer licensing should work."

        Isn't the point that MSFT's patent application is torpedoed by the prior art of FlexLM?

    • I was sure you were SecurityGuy... man, you had me fooled, flexlm.
    • Name's also Cadence, who had a system to issue time-based licenses automatically based on customer request. EDACard, I think they called it. While not exactly the same, I think that everything describes is obvious based on waht Cadence did with their EDACard program and FlexLM.
      • by julesh (229690)

        Name's also Cadence, who had a system to issue time-based licenses automatically based on customer request. EDACard, I think they called it. While not exactly the same, I think that everything describes is obvious based on waht Cadence did with their EDACard program and FlexLM.

        Really? Cadence software I have here is using flexlm... have they changed recently?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by elashish14 (1302231)

      Microsoft's fundamental problem is that they've already sold many people what they need. XP works fine for me. I don't need Vista. Or 7. Office is fine. I don't care about the next round of bells and whistles. Most of what most of us do doesn't require them.

      Except Microsoft chooses which you can use. Soon they'll stop selling licenses for XP, you can already only get it on netbooks, and even they probably know that XP is a better product, but force Vista on you anyways. And the same goes for Office - not that I've looked, but I'm pretty sure you couldn't buy Office 2003 if you wanted to.

      This is the failure of the software-by-one-company-for-profit model.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 09, 2009 @06:35PM (#29699549)

    Microsoft is effectively trying to patent the single most effective method of convincing ordinary users that alternatives are worth trying. That or piracy... Either way, it doesn't look like a very smart thing for MS to be doing.

  • you'd try touting a three-year lease with a balloon buy-out payment, too!

    Isn't the Mortgage Bubble Crash prior art?
           

  • Dangerous move (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 09, 2009 @06:40PM (#29699601)

    People have options these days. I'm on the knife edge myself and Vista was annoying enough to have me considering a shift. Turn my software and OS into a ticking time bomb and I'm likely to jump ship. Microsoft is desperate to establish a revenue stream that requires no innovation or effort on their part. Vista falling on it's face confirmed for them the need for putting a gun to their users heads to keep money flowing.

    • The licensing business models may include, for example, a non-renewable evaluation of a software product, a renewable trial of the software product, a one-time promotion of the software product, a subscription for use of the software product, or other licensing business models for use of the software product

      What next, charge by the minute like in the old mainframe days?!

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by ^_^x (178540)

      Yeah. Now that I'm out of school and can afford to, I buy my copies of Windows. If they charged by time period, I wouldn't be against cracking them again.

    • What if you could buy software that was a service? One that provided excellent availability, convenience, automatic backups, and automatic updates?

      Oh yeah... you can!

      Many software products nowadays are not products, but in fact, services. From Google's Gmail-based email hosting (for schools and businesses) to customer relationship management (Salesforce, et al) to my own company's products, many software products, especially software targeting larger organizations, are actually best sold as a service.

      It's n

  • Every business model in their list has been done by many software companies and the process to obtain the license is standard practice. How can anyone patent something like this?

  • They anounced it months ago. The concept was to charge the user as much as they use their machine resources. On the other hand, who wouldn't like to charge the racket on 90% of this small planet's computers?
  • How about software that drops restrictions after X years. Does anyone know of an existing license that does this? I'm working on software that I want to revert to BSD after a time period.
  • Licensing is something somewhat old. Extending it to "only valid for certain amount of time" (total or of active use) looks like a common sense (maybe greedy, but hey, is Microsoft after all) extension.

    The good thing is that by patenting prevents or at least discourages other companies about doing the same.
  • Just about every shareware application has either a nag-screen or a 30 day countdown....

    You get licensed to try the software for 30 days.

    There are old DOS programs that were like this.

    There were Windows 3.1 applications that were licensed like this.

    There is absolutely nothing novel about time-based licensing.

    • None of those licenses are even close to what they are patenting. Read the freaking article or the patent or at least the full description.
      • by mysidia (191772)

        Apparently you didn't bother to actually read it.

        It says very clearly: The licensing business models may include, but not be limited to, a non-renewable evaluation license, a renewable trial license, a one-time promotion license, and a subscription license. 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.

        Of course all this has been done before.

        e.g. Antivirus products are commonly sold with annual r

    • I remember those. This is like drop-dead dates raised to the nth power. Paying off once won't get it, you just trade an early drop-dead date for a later drop-dead date- over, and over, and over. until they decide you must upgrade. Sounds really, really swell. Have fun, Microsoft lovers! ;-) Glad I use Linux & BSD. What's next for MS, patenting "The GUI" and the CLI?
  • vBulletin's yearly licenses.

  • With pride, I can say that I will not be violating this patent.
  • this is obvious and not patentable.

    last time i took the train I paid a single ride fare. -- single use license.
    back in college I would buy the monthly pass. -- unlimited, time based right to use license.

  • Oh, my god, we're in deep trouble if they patent time based software licensing! Imagine a world where nobody else has the right to sell limited time licenses - just MS! Death to us all I say!

  • by MarkvW (1037596) on Friday October 09, 2009 @07:49PM (#29700089)

    A license is a contract. A contract is an exchange of enforceable promises. Patenting a contractual idea would deprive other people of the freedom to contract in a certain manner (because Microsoft has patented it). Freedom to contract is an idea that a lot of judges groove with--it has a lot to do with liberty, freedom, and other cool ideas like that.

    I don't think that Microsoft will be able to tell other people how they can and cannot order their affairs.

    • by julesh (229690)

      A license is a contract. A contract is an exchange of enforceable promises. Patenting a contractual idea would deprive other people of the freedom to contract in a certain manner (because Microsoft has patented it). Freedom to contract is an idea that a lot of judges groove with--it has a lot to do with liberty, freedom, and other cool ideas like that.

      The argument doesn't work, though, because they're not patenting a type of contract, but a method of producing product keys as an antipiracy measure in conjun

  • This is Microsoft's wet dream. Every time someone uses their software, kaching! they get money. It would be an absolutely perfect business model if there was even one person in the world stupid enough to buy into it. Every time Microsoft introduces a new and more onerous 'innovation' it just sends more people looking for a way out. *Hint* just use Open Office for free!
  • I really should... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sbeckstead (555647) on Friday October 09, 2009 @07:50PM (#29700099) Homepage Journal
    I implemented this system in it's entirety with another engineer back about 6 years ago. Complete with the license server and the multiple parameters of the license. Is there a way to protest this being patented? It's still in daily use for my wife's company. They even get updates based on whether they have paid the license fee for the month.
    • by julesh (229690) on Friday October 09, 2009 @08:12PM (#29700219)

      I implemented this system in it's entirety with another engineer back about 6 years ago. Complete with the license server and the multiple parameters of the license. Is there a way to protest this being patented? It's still in daily use for my wife's company.

      Yes. It's still in the application phase, so you can make a representation to the patent office as to why you believe it shouldn't be granted. You need some legal advice on how best to provide such a representation. There are several people who may be able to give you such advice; it may be worth contacting either the EFF or the Public Patent Foundation, both of whom have a lot of experience in this field.

      • by Tablizer (95088)

        Why are you thinking this hard about trying to stop MS from sinking their own ship? Let them sink. Let them slowly ramp up fees which will cause customers to slowly bleed away, leaving MS to slowly die. They used to be the WalMart of software. Now they are morphing toward the Computer Associates model.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by mmandt (1441661)
      I implemented a time-based licensing scheme in 2002. Which is very much the same as the product microsoft launched to do this. I thought of patenting it, but didn't. I would like to object as well. We still use it...
  • Apparently this appears is nothing but a patent troll from Micro$oft.
    EDA tool industry has long been using the time-based licensing model for their tools, particularly using the FlexLM based licensing system.
    How can they even think to patent this sort of thing ?
  • Whoa. (Score:3, Funny)

    by Kingrames (858416) on Friday October 09, 2009 @10:07PM (#29700853)
    STAND BACK!

    I'm going to attempt time travel.
  • Considering their software is installed, by default, on a significant percentage of new computers sold every day, after whatever time the license lasts elapses, the volume of complaints that people's computers no longer work correctly would skyrocket beyond any numbers that we've seen previously.
    • They could use it for business licenses of Windows. Or they could use it for any of their other software that doesn't come preinstalled with computers and isn't used by most home users.

  • If you put an expiration date on my operating system, then I'd be dumping it all and moving to linux in short order. It's bad enough that the hardware goes obsolete in a few years and/or breaks!
  • Smells like they didn't like the rate of Vista adoption. Don't want to buy the new OS? No worries, we'll simply stop renewing the license of the old one.
  • There are multiple third party solutions on the market already that handle this, I don't know if they are patented but I know the place I used to work used things like CrypKey, Crypto++ and later developed their own solution
  • Time-based licensing is NEW?

    A while back I picked up a MicroVAX at a garage sale for $3, mainly for the 25-inch color monitor that came with it.

    Plugged it in, and it started booting. And continued booting... About 15 minutes later it complained: "TCP/IP license has expired". No, not a DHCP lease, an
    actual software license. Sigh. Nice monitor tho.

  • Let's start a hard drive timeshare program, so you could run with win 7 in the summer, vista in the fall, XP in the winter and linux in spring!
  • This can only be a good thing... Seriously, people who use this kind of proprietary software *deserve* to get screwed over by their corporate software masters. For too long people have lived under the false assumption that they have rights, but the fact is these software developers can do whatever the hell they want, and there is nothing people can do about it so long as they keep purchasing their proprietary software! Maybe this will help a few more people get a clue and move to open source.

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