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Visto Sues Microsoft over Windows Mobile

Microsoft officials can tell you that being the biggest software company has its downsides. For one thing, it makes them a giant, slow moving target for smaller competitors, particularly when it comes to lawsuits.

Thursday, Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Visto filed suit against the Redmond giant for patent infringement in connection with Windows Mobile 5, which introduces push e-mail technology similar to Visto’s offerings.

Microsoft revealed at TechEd in August that the Messaging and Security Feature Pack for Windows Mobile 5.0 will work Exchange 2003 Service Pack 2.

Visto, founded in 1996, provides secure, remote access for mobile workers to Microsoft Exchange and other messaging products such as IBM Lotus Domino.

“Microsoft’s announcement to move into our market is what initiated our action,” Visto’s CEO Brian Bogosian, said in a conference call for press and analysts.

The suit alleges that Microsoft is infringing on three patents for technologies that Visto developed in-house. Those include patents for mobile technologies in the areas of synchronization, remote access and security, Visto officials said.

The company described them as providing methods for “Synchronizing Multiple Copies Of A Workspace Element In A Network; Accessing Unified Information In A Computer Network; and Using A Workspace Data Manager To Access, Manipulate And Synchronize Network Data.”

This is classic Microsoft behavior, Visto asserts. “They cannot be permitted to expand into a new market by infringing our intellectual property,” said Bogosian.

Microsoft had little immediate response. "Until we have an opportunity to review this complaint and investigate Visto’s allegations, we're not in a position to comment specifically on them,” said a company spokeswoman in a statement. “In the meantime, however, we wish to underscore that Microsoft stands behind its products and respects the intellectual property rights of others.”

Bogosian admits the company did not contact Microsoft before filing suit.

On hearing that, one analyst wondered aloud about Visto’s motives. “It strikes me as somewhat opportunistic to sue before contacting them to attempt to negotiate,” said Joe Wilcox, senior analyst at market analysis firm JupiterResearch.

However, another analyst’s first thoughts were that perhaps Visto might have underestimated the depth of Microsoft’s own patent portfolio in terms of settlements.

“There are probably things that Visto is doing that Microsoft can sue them for,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at research firm The Enderle Group. “What ends up happening [in a lot of similar cases] is that both companies end up cross-licensing technologies.”

About the Author

Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.

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