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Frequently Asked Questions

The Microsoft Community Promise (CP) is a simple and clear way to assure that the broadest audience of developers and customers working with commercial or open source software can implement specifications through a simplified method of sharing of technical assets, while recognizing the legitimacy of intellectual property.

We listened to feedback from community representatives who made positive comments regarding the acceptability of this approach.

Q: Why did Microsoft take this approach? [+]
A: It was a simple, clear way, after looking at many different licensing approaches, to reassure a broad audience of developers and customers that the specifications could be used for free, easily, now and forever.

Q: How does the CP work? Do I have to do anything in order to get the benefit of this CP? [+]
A: No one needs to sign anything or even reference anything. Anyone is free to implement the specifications as they wish and do not need to make any mention of or reference to Microsoft. Anyone can use or implement these specifications with their technology, code, solution, etc. You must agree to the terms in order to benefit from the promise; however, you do not need to sign a license agreement, or otherwise communicate your agreement to Microsoft.

Q: What is covered and what is not covered by the CP? [+]
A: The CP covers each individual specification designated on the public list posted at the Community Promise page (some specifications include special terms; these are noted). The CP applies to anyone who is building software and or hardware to implement one or more of those specifications. The CP does not apply to any work that you do beyond the scope of the covered specifications.

Q: How is the CP different from the Open Specification Promise (OSP)? [+]
A: The CP requires that implementations conform to all of required parts of the mandatory portions of the specification. Also, in specified cases (such as where the specifications have uses that exceed those needed to achieve the interoperability needs for which the release under the CP is being made), the CP may have special terms concerning what kinds of implementations are covered.

Q: If a listed specification has been approved by a standards organization, what patent rights is Microsoft providing? [+]
A: We are providing assurances regarding necessary claims consistent with the scope of our commitments in that organization.

Q: What if I don’t implement the entire specification? Will I still get the protections under the CP?
[+]
A: The CP applies only if the implementation conforms fully to required portions of the specification. Partial implementations are not covered.

Q: The specification I am interested in has some required portions and some optional portions. Does the CP apply to both? [+]
A: Yes, the CP also applies to the required elements of optional portions of such specifications.

Q: Does this CP apply to all versions of the specification, including future revisions? [+]
A: The CP applies to all existing versions of the specifications designated on the public list posted at the Community Promise page, unless otherwise noted with respect to a particular specification.

Q: Why doesn’t the CP apply to things that are merely referenced in the specification? [+]
A: It is a common practice that technology licenses focus on the specifics of what is detailed in the specifications and exclude what are frequently called “enabling technologies.” If we included patent claims to the enabling technology, then as an extreme example, it could be argued that one needs computer and operating system patents to implement almost any information technology specification. No such broad patent licenses to referenced technologies are ever given for specific industry standards.

Q: Is this CP sub-licensable? [+]
A: There is no need for sublicensing. This promise is directly applicable to you and everyone else who wants to use it. Accordingly, your distributees, customers and vendors can directly take advantage of this same promise, and have the exact same protection that you have.

Q: Is this CP legally binding on Microsoft and will it be available in the future to me and to others? [+]
A: Yes, the CP is legally binding upon Microsoft. The CP is a unilateral promise from Microsoft and in these circumstances unilateral promises may be enforced against the party making such a promise. Because the CP states that the promise is irrevocable, it may not be withdrawn by Microsoft. The CP is, and will be, available to everyone now and in the future for the specifications to which it applies. As stated in the CP, the only time Microsoft can withdraw its promise against a specific person or company for a specific Covered Specification is if that person or company brings (or voluntarily participates in) a patent infringement lawsuit against Microsoft regarding a Microsoft implementation of the same Covered Specification. This type of “suspension” clause is common industry practice.

Q: Is the CP intended to apply to open source developers and users of open source developed software? [+]
A: Yes. The CP applies directly to all persons or entities that make, use, sell, offer for sale, imports and/or distributes an implementation of a Covered Specification. It is intended to enable open source implementations. Because open source software licenses can vary you may want to consult with your legal counsel to understand your particular legal environment.

Q: Why does Microsoft obtain patents that apply to specifications to which the CP apply? Is that something that others do too? [+]
A: Microsoft invests a significant amount of resources in research and development efforts. Like any other company that commits such resources to creating new technologies, Microsoft seeks to protect its investment by obtaining patents on the resulting innovations. At a minimum, patents have value in defending Microsoft with regard to patent infringement claims made by others. Many patent owners use their patents defensively to protect themselves against third-party law suits when they make their patents available under reasonable and non-discriminatory (RAND or RAND-Z) terms and conditions (including promises like the CP).

Q: What is the difference between copyrights and patent rights and why doesn’t the CP include copyrights? [+]
A: Patents protect the creation or improvement of a novel and useful method, device, process, or material. By contrast, copyrights protect a particular expression or implementation of an invention but not the underlying invention itself. For example, copyright protects the intellectual property rights associated with owning or distributing a copy of the specification as a document. In the particular case of the CP, copyrights in the Covered Specifications are made available by the publisher of the particular specification. When specifications are published by standards setting organizations, those organizations provide the copyright license. When Microsoft is the publisher of the Covered Specification, a copyright license is provided either as a part of text of the Covered Specification itself, or in a separate document. Copyrights in the Covered Specifications are not provided through the CP because, in the instances where the standards organization owns the copyright in the Covered Specifications, Microsoft does not have the ability to provide such rights.

Q: Is this Promise consistent with open source licensing, namely the General Public License (GPL)? And can anyone implement the specifications without any concerns about Microsoft patents? [+]
A: The Community Promise is a simple and clear way to assure that the broadest audience of developers and customers working with commercial or open source software can implement the covered specifications. We leave it to those implementing these technologies to understand the legal environments in which they operate. This includes people operating in a GPL environment. Because the GPL is not universally interpreted the same way by everyone, we can’t give anyone a legal opinion about how our language relates to the GPL or other OSS licenses, but based on feedback from the open source community we believe that a broad audience of developers can implement the specifications.

Q: I am a developer/distributor/user of software that is licensed under the GPL, does the CP apply to me? [+]
A: Absolutely, yes. The CP applies to developers, distributors, and users of Covered Implementations without regard to the development model that created such implementations, or the type of copyright licenses under which they are distributed, or the business model of distributors/implementers. The CP provides the assurance that Microsoft will not assert its Necessary Claims against anyone who make, use, sell, offer for sale, import, or distribute any Covered Implementation under any type of development or distribution model, including the GPL. As stated in the CP, the only time Microsoft can withdraw its promise against a specific person or company for a specific Covered Specification is if that person or company brings (or voluntarily participates in) a patent infringement lawsuit against Microsoft regarding a Microsoft implementation of the same Covered Specification. This type of “suspension” clause is common industry practice.