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MS anti-spam proposal returned to sender

IETF endorses patent fears

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The technical standards body for the internet, the IETF, has bounced back Microsoft's controversial proposal for stopping spam, Sender ID. The reason given is that proposal is encumbered by Redmond patents. Adopters aren't allowed to sublicense the technology - it's a "nontransferable, non-sublicenseable" specification, which makes it a non-starter for free or open source developers. Internet standards have traditionally only become accepted if they're free of such restrictions,

Both the Apache Software Foundation and the Debian project, amongst others, had recommended not adopting the measure. Quite what's in Microsoft's patent remains a mystery: it isn't yet public. Meanwhile a similar proposal called SPF, that's acceptable to software libre developers, is also on the table. Both proposals attempt to verify the "From" field of an email, and authenticate it against a domain.

The chairs of the IETF's working group on MTA (Mail Transport Agent) Authorization Records in DNS (marid) concluded that, "the patent claims should not be ignored. Additionally, there is at least rough consensus that the participants of the working group cannot accurately describe the specific claims of the patent application. This stems from the fact that the patent application is not publicly available. Given this, it is the opinion of the co-chairs that MARID should not undertake work on alternate algorithms reasonably thought to be covered by the patent application."

(You can follow the discussions here.)

The ground rules of writing open source software seem to have escaped one analyst, however. On Friday Sageza's Rob Kidd wrote that the "religious zealots" at Apache had made a decision based on "a simple base of bigotry".

Sender ID is one of three proposals to make good on Microsoft's promise to stamp out spam "within two years", a pledge made by Chairman Bill in January. The others two are creating tarpits, and Gates' preferred option, pay-to-send. The latter has been described as a revenue opportunity in disguise

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