Microsoft's SA software patent haul

Despite a Patent Act which precludes software from being patented in South Africa, Microsoft holds more than 300 patents locally, most of them for software processes. 

Among the patents granted to Microsoft by Cipro (Companies and Intellectual Property Registration Office) is the controversial OOXML patent, which has been contested around the globe, as well as patents on selecting a tab in a tabbed browser window, splitting software downloads into smaller parts, and selecting view modes and settings on a PC.

A search for Microsoft on Cipro’s new online patent listing service turns up 618 results with Microsoft as the applicant. But, because, most entries on the patent database appear to be duplicated it is safe to assume that at least 300 are unique patents.

Those 300 patents were either filed for, or granted, between 2003 and 2009.

Of the 300 patents listed in Cipro’s database, there are approximately 60 patent applications still pending and another 30 accepted but not yet granted.

This slew of patents have been filed by Microsoft with Cipro over the past six years despite a Patent Act which precludes issuing patents for software.

Section 25 of the South African Patents Act No.57 of 1978, says that “Anything which consists of … a program for a computer” is not considered an invention that can be patented under the Act. This has been regularly contested by patent lawyers, including Spoor&Fischer which acts as Microsoft’s representative in most of its patent applications and defences.

Cipro, however, is a non-examining patent office which means that patents are not tested for validity before being accepted but only that the correct process has been followed and that the payments have been made.

Microsoft is not the only multinational software vendor that has patents registered on software locally, but it is one of the most aggressive.

Database giant Oracle has at least one granted patent locally, for a data processing system. Even IBM, which holds the record for the most US patents registered in a year, only has one patent in the Cipro pending queue.

Other patents that Microsoft has been granted locally include those for providing context-sensitive help in computer documents, electronic sticky notes, as well as multiple XML file format patents.

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Microsoft's SA software patent haul