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AOL Patent Deal Means Microsoft Now Holds Vestiges of Netscape 129

inode_buddha writes "It's part of the $1 billion AOL patent deal, and it's something that would have made many minds explode back in the 1990s. It still makes my mind explode today. Marc Andreesen points out that MS now has a significant chunk of the old Netscape. What are the ramifications for Mozilla?"
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AOL Patent Deal Means Microsoft Now Holds Vestiges of Netscape

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  • Nothing. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sigvatr ( 1207234 ) on Tuesday April 10, 2012 @10:45AM (#39630925)
    • Mozilla was a complete rewrite as open source. That means the team to time to remove all the old, copyright-able code.
      • Re:Nothing. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Old97 ( 1341297 ) on Tuesday April 10, 2012 @10:55AM (#39631081)
        Except this is about patents - not copyrights.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          Okay, how about, "Nothing, because otherwise AOL would have sued Mozilla ages ago"?

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            AOL *created* the Mozilla Foundation, so why would they sue them? It's a safe bet that Mozilla has a license to any relevant patent.

            • IIRC, Mozilla was created long before AOL acquired Netscape. It was Netscape that decided to go open source, not AOL.
      • by BBird ( 664014 )

        as Old97 said -- MS bought patents, not copyrights.
        Netscape browser code was open sourced by Netscape just before its demise. Mozilla is not a complete re-write. It is
        based on said open sourced code.

        • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

          In supplying the code they also supplied free access to any patents implied in that code. So attempt was made to imply restricted access to any patent implied in the opened source code provided. So whilst no public formal agreement was established with regards to patent use, an informal agreement was established to allow access to the patents implied by the code along with access to that code being made accessible under the conditions of the open source licence agreement as that agreement did not specifica

    • I was just about to post this. Of course knowing how Microsoft operates, they'll try to sue Mozilla anyway as part of their Embrace, Extend, and then Extinguish philosophy. (On the other hand, they didn't try to use their NCSA Mosaic patents to kill-off Netscape Navigator, so maybe they'll behave.)

      (ponder). My dialup service is Netscape. I wonder if that means it will now become part of Microsoft, or will it remain part of AOL. (reads article). Never mind. AOL is keeping the ISP http://www.getnetscape []

      • Re:Nothing. (Score:4, Funny)

        by dmacleod808 ( 729707 ) on Tuesday April 10, 2012 @11:01AM (#39631165)
        Dialup... service? What is this?
        • What you use when the DSL or Cable goes down. Or when stuck in a hotel without internet (except a phone). I've downloaded a lot of torrents over 50k these last several years, and no bandwidth caps. :-)

          • by eln ( 21727 )
            No bandwidth caps except for the fact that it takes 3 weeks to download a single episode of a TV show. I used to have dialup for similar reasons, but these days nearly every hotel has wifi available and if your DSL or cable goes down frequently enough to be a problem then you should probably switch to a different provider.
            • No bandwidth caps except for the fact that it takes 3 weeks to download a single episode of a TV show.

              And the insane telephone bill for a 43.200 minute phone call. A good 2.000€ for 16.43GB means ~122€ per GB.

              • cpu6502 is in the USA, where local telephone calls are usually free. If your ISP has a local POP then the telephone bill will be nothing beyond your line rental. This is a big part of the reason why dialup was more popular in the US than in Europe, where a per-minute fee was more common. It's also part of the reason why mobile phone adoption was slower in the US.
          • by icebraining ( 1313345 ) on Tuesday April 10, 2012 @11:54AM (#39631991) Homepage

            and no bandwidth caps. :-)

            Yeah, but 50kbps * 1 month is only ~16.43 gigabytes, and that's if you could run it at full throttle 24/7. It caps itself.

          • Or it's the best/cheapest alternate when (1) you're too far out of a rural town for DSL service to reach you, (2) the (only) cable company will charge you $500 to just *get* it to your property and put a telephone pole in the middle of your front yard in the process, and (3) you're so deep in the forest, you'd have to clear-cut half of your property to get a line-of-sight for satellite service (and that's at a rate of $120/month for 60% of typical broadband speeds)

            BTW I'm talking about a Northern Californ
            • by rndmtim ( 664101 )

              This is also true in (rural) upstate NY. I'm less than 45 minutes out of Albany and Kingston. The satellite companies - Wild Blue, for example - also cap you at a few gigs no matter what you pay... something you find out when your dad is visiting and leaves webstreaming for his favorite city radio station going 24/7 for a week.

              I ended up with local RF (something like the old breezenet) through a company that specializes in line of sight internet. I can see the last drop for the cable company but the 1/2 mi

          • What you use when the DSL or Cable goes down. Or when stuck in a hotel without internet (except a phone). I've downloaded a lot of torrents over 50k these last several years, and no bandwidth caps. :-)

            Cellular hot-spot.

        • Re:Nothing. (Score:4, Funny)

          by Ihmhi ( 1206036 ) <> on Tuesday April 10, 2012 @02:37PM (#39634907)

          Dialup... service? What is this?

          It's like the Internet on your Droid, but it's over a landline and you use a computer instead of a smart phone.

          • Dialup... service? What is this?

            It's like the Internet on your Droid, but it's over a landline and you use a computer instead of a smart phone.

            It's tethering your desktop computer with your land line phone.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Enderandrew ( 866215 )

        Bill Gate's Embrace, Extend and then Extinguish philosophy didn't include suing over patents. Under Gate's reign, they never once used patents offensively.

        However, under Ballmer it has been a different story, so I don't know.

        That being said, if Netscape had browser patents that AOL was sitting on that could be monetized, I'm assuming they would have done so.

      • AOL dial-up still exists? And still has customers? Is that because you live in the last place in America that doesn't have broadband, or is sticking with dial-up easier than running the gauntlet to cancel your AOL account? (Been there, commiserate.)

      • "On the other hand, they didn't try to use their NCSA Mosaic patents to kill-off Netscape Navigator, so maybe they'll behave", cpu6502

        What NCSA Mosaic patents, MS didn't have any patents or a browser which is why it first approached NCSA for an exclusive license, then MS approached Netscape and only then got a license from Spyglass. They promised Spyglass a royalty for every version sold and the proceeded to give away the co-branded browser as Internet Explorer. Spyglass later on sued Microsoft and then
    • Re:Nothing. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by slack_justyb ( 862874 ) on Tuesday April 10, 2012 @11:17AM (#39631351)
      I totally agree with parent. Firefox has absolutely nothing to worry about here. Not only for the fact that Microsoft has enough fights on its hands as is, but that if it wanted to start a war in the browser space, it would get schooled by the DOJ and then they'd (DOJ) start poking their heads into all of Microsoft's other battles.

      Additionally, the is very little technology that is common between Firefox and Netscape. Firefox has evolved past it's 0.8 code and so for there to be anything left in Firefox that is a major bit from Netscape would be a big surprise.
      • by HiThere ( 15173 )

        You mean like last time?

        I wouldn't count on MS shaking in their boots over the DOJ. More likely the patents are not only weak, but about to expire, but then why did MS pay so much for them.

        Clearly *something* is going on, but it's not at all clear what. Perhaps AOL threatened to sue MS? Or, alternatively, MS is up to something vile. Neither would be a surprise, and the target isn't necessarily FOSS.

        FWIW, recent court decisions have made software patents a lot more questionable than previously (thankfull

      • Also MS and Mozilla/Firefox get on quite well these days. I suspect MS prefers Firefox around to at least try and keep Googles browser share in check.

    • by Pieroxy ( 222434 )

      Let's hope they'll incorporate this great Netscape 4 technology in their crappy IE12 !

      Kidding of course.

  • Does this mean that some hybrid of IE/Netscrape will be created? That could be either very interesting or very scary.
    • Does this mean that some hybrid of IE/Netscrape will be created? That could be either very interesting or very scary.

      Netscape 7 (or was it 8) could already use the Trident rendering engine on Windows, the same engine that powers Internet Explorer. It was a runtime user option, and could be switched on the fly.

    • by jmDev ( 2607337 )
      I doubt they'd put any resources on something like that when they already have IE.
    • No, I think this means that Bill Gates is going to have the original Netscape documents delivered to his house so he can wipe is ass with them.
    • Doubtful... what I would suspect is that MS will use this to target handset (tablet & phone) manufacturers first and foremost. If they can make $5 per handset sold in the world, they'll be pretty content with that, and probably earn back the initial investment in under a few years time. MS will continue to develop solutions (Win8/Phone7-8 etc) in order to get closer to 100% of the pie... but they're diversifying in order to get money from competitors *also*.
  • by Microlith ( 54737 ) on Tuesday April 10, 2012 @10:50AM (#39631005)

    Or, if Microsoft is stupid, they'll leverage the patents against other browsers and open up a nice new series of anti-competition complaints. But as we've seen over the last 10 years, MS has gotten very, very careful about not treading into areas that could open up a new round of such suits, and very subtle in their anti-competitive behavior so as not to draw attention from the DoJ.

    I'm sure MS would love to lock out all browsers but IE from Windows 8, like Apple can on iOS, but MS burned themselves there before. I'm sure they'd love to lock out the ability for users to boot non-Windows platforms on x86 PCs, like they do on ARM. But that too would draw an unending stream of complaints (though I think the ARM lock out should as well, against all vendors.)

    The question to be asked is how MS will use these patents to raise fees on Android, and if they'll go around demanding more "Linux licenses" like they did in 2007.

    • The App Store has a number of alternate browsers. So what locking out are you referring to?

      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 10, 2012 @10:56AM (#39631097)

        With the exception of Opera they are not actually alternate browsers. They are safari with some different buttons at the bottom. Apple does not allow other browsers on the app store.

        Opera gets away with it because of that minifying thing they do where they MITM each page.

      • It is possible for them to, but they don't. In the early days of the App store things like browsers were blocked as "Duplicating core iOS functionality".

      • by Reapman ( 740286 ) on Tuesday April 10, 2012 @11:04AM (#39631201)

        All alternate browsers must use the Safari rendering engine - in short you can get a fancy front end, but not a new backend (like say Firefox's backend, or Opera, etc) Note that Opera's Mini browser gets a pass since most work doesn't occur on the device, but Opera's backend servers. You can't get the "real" Opera browser on the phone.

        Unless somethings changed in the last year, I can't port Opera or Firefox or Chrome over, etc

    • by Anonymous Coward

      subtle like how their choose a new search engine webpage never *ever* puts google on the first page.

      • It did when those selection pages were introduced. I remember seeing it there. However, ever since then it quickly fell in the rankings and wound up somewhere in the weeds. Now I have to search for it every time I get a new install and want to change that.

    • by c ( 8461 )

      > Or, if Microsoft is stupid, they'll leverage the patents against other
      > browsers and open up a nice new series of anti-competition complaints.

      One could argue that just buying the assets of a company they were convicted of putting out of business anti-competitively should bring down immediate anti-competition scrutiny.

      • by s.petry ( 762400 )

        Would only happen if some politicians were strapped for cash. They would call the DOJ to get funding from Microsoft, then drop the case when they felt they had enough. Super-PAC legalization has done away with some of that need.

      • I think RedHat now owns what was Netscape Server along with all their old ident stuff and login managers... Wonder if MS now owns the patents to some RH products? I do know RH is offering something from that code base.

    • The question to be asked is how MS will use these patents to raise fees on Android

      Pretty much this...

      • Well, Android doesn't use Netscape technologies, does it? It uses Chrome, so it should be pretty much safe there.
        • That entirely depends on what the patent portfolio includes. Android doesn't use "Netscape", but it may very well use something that could be loosely construed to be infringing these patents.
    • Came here to say this, but found your commentary to be better than mine.

      Since we have to live with software patents, the best we can hope for is that these patents are used defensively.

      But even if they take some of these patents to war, I just don't see them striking out against Mozilla or Chrome. They aren't exactly Microsoft's biggest targets right now, and I'm pretty sure MS knows they don't want to have to withstand the backlash that attacking Mozilla or Chrome would create.
  • Patents shmatents. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Tuesday April 10, 2012 @10:52AM (#39631033)

    >> Marc Andreesen points out that MS now has a significant chunk of the old Netscape. What are the ramifications for Mozilla?

    Not sure how much those patents would be worth to anyone, given that Netscape was unable to use them to defend against IE in the 1990s.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    if you can't beat them, buy them

  • by dryriver ( 1010635 ) on Tuesday April 10, 2012 @11:02AM (#39631177)
    NetSoft InternetEscaper? Netcraft MicroScapeExplorer? MicroCape NetExCavator? A strange marriage, this on... I'll just stick to using FireFox, thank you...
  • Theoretically, versions of derived works from the Netscape code base are safe. If M$ decides to change the license, anything going forward, from this point on, would need to be forked from the current (open source) codebase.

  • by na1led ( 1030470 ) on Tuesday April 10, 2012 @11:13AM (#39631299)
    It's very pathetic what the world has come to. Big corporations now rely on suing each other to make profits.
  • While I love my gecko based browser, the engine does not hold the critical position it did even a year ago. Webkit is now stable and functional. If MS chooses to make trouble for Gecko, all that will happen is more people will go to Webkit and we will improve that layout engine. I don't think the loss of competition between Gecko and Webkit will hurt, and the primary competitor has been MS IE.
    • I'm pretty sure that if they can create trouble for Mozilla, which will quickly result in an antitrust complaint, they can create trouble for Webkit.

  • ... patents on software and algorithms were no longer allowed, and all existing patents on them were declared null and void?

    I hate software patents with all of my being, because I believe that they are equivalent to patenting mental steps (which supposedly cannot be patented, but even worse, effectively legislates what sort of ideas a person is allowed to think about or share with others). To that end, I'm curious what sort of repercussions there would actually be if they were simply dissolved. Would it cause, as advocates of software patents would tend to believe, a stifling of innovation, because companies with the money to do some cutting edge R&D would be less likely to invest in it when they know somebody else could potentially do the same thing later and they'd have no recourse? Or would it foster healthy competition among startups, and end up encouraging new ideas and innovation overall?

    • What would happen is the same as what happened after cigarette adversising started to be banned: their profits would increase. Because they were no longer in an arms race with other companies over who could advertise the most (or hoard the most patents and lawyers in this case) they could save the money and make more profit.

  • by TheGoodNamesWereGone ( 1844118 ) on Tuesday April 10, 2012 @11:15AM (#39631319)
    MS isn't terribly worried about the browser wars any more. They're far more afraid of Apple and Google; witness the abortion that is Metro on W8 and their mad rush to 'converge' the desktop with the tablet. Idiocy? Perhaps. It's certainly a slap in the face to every desktop user.
    • by Mojo66 ( 1131579 )

      I agree. MS needs these patents to enable a revenue stream past their current cash cows into the post-PC aera.

    • Not to mention the blatantly anti-open-source nature of their app store TOS agreement.

    • by HiThere ( 15173 )

      Perhaps. It's certainly a slap in the face to every desktop user.

      No more than Gnome3 or Unity.

      • I use KDE. With Linux, there's choice at least. I feel like going off on a 2000-word rant about desktops and tablets how they with their different scales demand different interfaces. Consumers will slowly adopt this shit because new computers will ship with Win-Hate preinstalled, but businesses are gonna skip it the same way they did Vista. There. How many words was that? Sorry.
  • I assume Mozilla will get another cake.
  • Because MS is sooo big, sooo smart, has soo many patents they still must buy anything vaguely useful because their own product is so good it can compete on it's own strength. Right?
  • Did they get the patent on mass-mailing your software to customers on floppy disks? That could net them millions of dollars. Well, Zimbabwe dollars at least.

  • One of the rules of earning a patent are that it is simply an improvement on an existing thing. So wouldn't it make sense for HTC for example to patent their entire HTC one x, that will soon be released? Then all the item s in that phone are no longer patent protected from the software to chips , because the act of putting them all together in the configuration that the HTC one x, did is a clear improvement on them as pieces. Is it not an improvement of the 3g chip or the java software when they are put to
  • by s.petry ( 762400 ) on Tuesday April 10, 2012 @12:14PM (#39632335)

    I know most people only think of Netscape with browsers, but I have most of the original Source from the various Netscape projects somewhere.

    Netscape back then had an impressive LDAP server, Identity Management Server, Application server, Key servers, Proxy servers, as well as the framework for the web browser. Netscape was huge, and in to lots of technical areas that most people think of as standard services. Netscape was literally the gateway for SunOne Directory server for example.

    The age of the patents has to put them close to expiration. This is the first "WTF" when talking about paying such a high price for AOL patents. The next WTF is that most of the Netscape patents were open sourced long long ago. Meaning that the patents have no value (Assuming that UC vs. AT&T would be considered valid case law example, which it has been repeatedly.). I fail to find value in what they bought, at least that goes beyond a year or two.

    I'm not a fortune teller, but here is what I see. Microsoft is going to start trying to sue everyone. They see the writing on the wall, hell even our Windows guys at work say "Microsoft will be out of business in 4-5 years" and are trying to learn Linux. Zune was way to late, WinPhone is something nobody wants, XBox is still a huge money sink, and people have no desire to keep buying the same OS and Office products for way more money than they are worth from them.

    I see this is a drowning company flailing in the water. I hope they prove me wrong, but then again we in the business know how they have been since day 1.

    • RedHat now owns the Netscape servers you mentioned. Please expand on your thoughts regarding this patent deal.

      • by s.petry ( 762400 )

        I may be wrong, but the way I read those Netscape deals with both Sun and Redhat was that they bought licenses to use, not the actual patents. Redhat's base trees were the same source I had, at least when I first saw them, which were the same as Sun Microsystems. Could be, and probably were, many deals I was not aware of. At the same time, Sun's product line using Netscape was pretty much the same as Redhat's. Netscape could not sell the same patents to both companies. Redhat acquired a lot of technolo

        • Redhat bought the code base for the servers, and they bought the server business. They did open the code as you say. But RH *didn't* get the parents. They were separate. MS could well give RH a PITA that way. Dunno about Sun/Oracle tho.

          • by s.petry ( 762400 )

            Buying the code base is not buying the patents. Do you have any information showing that they actually purchased the patents for Netscape Directory Server or Netscape Proxy Server for example?

            The full product line from Sun has that same code base, which is why I'm pretty sure it was just licensing for the patents that both Redhat and Sun purchased. For example, Sun Directory server version 5.x still used "ns" as their directory structure and most of the tools were prefixed with ns. It was version 6 where

            • That's what I'm saying - I'm saying that RH didn't get the patents. And that is the danger. They bought the business built around those products (support, existing contracts, etc.) but now MS has the patents.

  • Shouldn't at least some of these Netscape patents be up for expiration? Any patents they were granted in 94 should have expired last year, and any between 95-99 or so should expire in 2015-2019. I feel like I must be missing some part of the picture, because patents on the verge of expiration seem like they should be almost worthless.
  • by frank249 ( 100528 ) on Tuesday April 10, 2012 @12:38PM (#39632713)

    Back in the day, Netscape was going to merge with Yahoo! and move their headquarters to Israel. The new company would be called NetandYahoo!

  • Old men fighting (Score:2, Flamebait)

    by jjohn ( 2991 )

    Has anyone else noticed how irrelevant Microsoft, Internet Explorer and (sadly) Firefox are in 2012?

    If this were 2001, I would agree that this is a big story.

    Let Microsoft fight over the dredges of the desktop market. That's a declining market.

    No one will take your Firefox away from you Linux desktop, so untwist your knickers.

    • Firefox isn't irrelevant. It's got a considerable market share, and without having ads everywhere (chrome), or bundling it with windows. That's pretty respectable. It's been growing, while IE has been dying too.

  • by TheNinjaroach ( 878876 ) on Tuesday April 10, 2012 @01:35PM (#39633833)
    This billion dollar expenditure to buy something as silly as software patents is the #1 reason why they won't go away. Big business has too much invested in software patents to let some pesky government go about changing the rules. Meanwhile, small business suffers for it.
  • Netscape? They are so 2000. If any patent was granted to Netscape that would be twelve years ago, patents have a 14 year life. They're due to expire soon. And if the Mozilla organization was infringing on these patents then AOL would had litigated long ago. Smells like a non-issue.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...and all I got was the <blink> tag

  • Why doesn't Google oppose MS purchase of AOL patents? If it were the other way around, if Google were to try an buy AOL patents, msft and friends would be having a fit. Msft, apple, and oracle, would be screaming and crying about Google's monopoloy and so on. We know this because we have already seen it.

  • From this related article [] it looks like MS has acquired this interesting patents:

    Patent No. 6854085, which covers technology to fill out forms on Web pages automatically.

    Patent No. 5657390, for the technology called Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), now called Transport Layer Security (TLS), which sets up an encrypted communication channel between browsers and the Web servers they connect to.


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