Microsoft is not out of surprises yet! Judges have ruled in a recent case that Microsoft is using its software activation system without a license.
Richard B. Frederickson, III, of Uniloc Private, Ltd. Had filed a patent application back in 1996 for what seems shocking similar to the Activation system used in Microsoft Windows and Office systems. The patent describes a system where the hardware is used as part of the key to authenticating the system.
If you're not familiar with the Windows Activation mechanism, that is exactly what it is. Windows activation is based on the hardware configuration of the system on which it is installed. As such if any change is made to the system configuration (i.e. any hardware is added or removed) the windows activation becomes invalid, and the user is required to activate it again. It was first implemented with Windows XP in 2001, 5 years after the original patent was filed.
Here are the relevant portions from the Patent:
“A registration system allows digital data or software to run in a use mode on a platform if and only if an appropriate licensing procedure has been followed. Preferably, the system detects when part of the platform on which the digital data has been loaded has changed in part or in entirety, as compared with the platform parameters, when the software or digital data to be protected was last booted or run.
“The algorithm provides a registration number which can be "unique" if the details provided by the intending licenses upon which the algorithm relies when executed upon the platform are themselves "unique".”
It is quite ironical indeed that the very system implemented by Microsoft to prevent its software from being stolen, was something they had stolen themselves!
The jury's decision lay unanimously against Microsoft, which was mostly trying to prove the invalidity of the patent. They were required to pay a sum of 388 million USD, to Richard Frederickson, however they might not have to pay any further license fee's.
Considering the fact that Windows activation itself was a public relations disaster, Microsoft seems to be paying quite heavily for something that was supposed to protect their money.