MICROSOFT seems to have caught people by surprise by being granted a patent on XML-based formats.
For a few years the Vole had been trying to create open standards derived from its own XML-based file formats, such as XPS and Office XML. True, much of its work was seen as an attempt to stop competing formats, such as the Open Document Format. However Microsoft did get some support for its cunning plan.
It appears that the patent was filed in late 2004, when Microsoft was engaged in its rigorous defence of its open standards.
It has the catchy title "Word-processing document stored in a single XML file that may be manipulated by applications that understand XML."
However it covers the use of XML documents by any word processing software.
The patent office appears to have seen AbiWord's XML definition and looked into the use of XML in online contexts, but decided that VoleWare predated it.
The patent appears to cover both the creation of the XML document and the file that's created.
Now that the patent has been granted there is a question what the Vole will do with it.
In the EU, the Vole is under pressure to increase its software's interoperability. If it tries to enforce its patent it will almost certainly be fined into a coma by the competition commissioners.
It is possible that Microsoft might just want the patent in case someone tries to patent the method first and then extract royalties from it. In which case we would expect the outfit to release it as royalty-free any day now. If not, there are going to be people who are a little wary of what the Vole is up to. µ