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PC makers win back right to sue Microsoft

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PC manufacturers have regained the right to sue Microsoft for patent infringement, according to the latest report on Microsoft's compliance with the Antitrust settlement.

The report was issued this week by the US Department of Justice, and the Assenting States who settled their own litigation with Microsoft. Massachusetts remains a Dissenting State having opted out of the Settlement and the compliance monitoring.

OEMs have had to assent to a "non-assertion provision" of Microsoft's uniform OEM license for Windows, which meant that they signed away the right to sue Microsoft if it incorporated patented features into Windows. The current license for XP is unchanged, but Redmond has promised to drop the provision in future in draft OEM agreements currently circulating.

According to the compliance report, "Plaintiffs were actively investigating the complaints and had not yet reached a conclusion on whether the non-assertion provision violated the Final Judgments. Plaintiffs are currently assessing whether any issues remain in light of Microsoft's removal of the non-assertion provision from future uniform OEM licenses. Plaintiffs anticipate completing this analysis prior to submission of the next Status Report."

Microsoft has also expanded the scope of its protocol licensing program (MCPP) to allow non-Windows clients to co-operate, after earlier complaints. This should benefit Sun Microsystems, which became the biggest MCPP licensee recently, as part of the rapprochement between Microsoft and Sun.

The DoJ and the states also want Microsoft to speed up technical documentation for its and improve what is described as the "usability" of the documentation. The full compliance report can be found here. However, Massachusetts continues to dissent, regarding the provisions of the settlement as ineffective.

"It appears that the competitive impact of the decree in this key area is essentially nonexistent," said the state's Attorney General Thomas Reilly this week. ®

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