salesforce_logo_2009_150.jpg
Analyst calls are often dull, stat-heavy affairs. So it's good to hear some spirit as Salesforce's (news, site) CEO calls Microsoft "Alley Thugs" for its legal tactics in another of IT's endless patent disputes.

Microsoft Cries Foul Against Salesforce

There is little doubt that the cloud will soon be where the action is in terms of legal litigation. For years the mobile makers have been filing suits left right and center and before that it was the chip makers who were hiring lawyers by the truckload. Expect enterprise 2.0-literate lawyers to be in demand this season.

Last week, Microsoft fired its first major shot in the battle of the clouds with a suit (PDF) against Salesforce, alleging infringement of nine patents that Microsoft holds. During its quarterly earnings announcement, Salesforce kicked back with some harsh words.

This escalation coincides with Microsoft's efforts to move its Office and SharePoint applications into the cloud along with its directly-competing Dynamics xRM products. All of this effort sees Microsoft move up a gear from its legacy in the desktop space.

Microsoft has been doing a lot to promote Dynamics recently. It cut pricing to US$ 19 a month per user, which could be a third of what Salesforce users pay. It also took a big tour of Europe to punt its CRM solutions there. So this action could well be a disruptive tactic that follows up the big promotional push.

The Patents Are Questionable

One of the patents is called “Method and system for mapping between logical data and physical data." In other words, it describes the link between what you see on your screen and is stored in memory and the actual data stored on a server.

Even to our untrained eyes, that looks a little broad. Every coder makes use of logical and physical addresses, putting data in those places and mapping it out would mean you've been breaching that patent for, oh, at least 30 years before it was granted.

Some of the others are similarly vacuous. You can see why Salesforce's CEO Marc Benioff compared Microsoft to a patent troll:

 

  1. System and method for providing and displaying a web page having an embedded menu
  2. Method and system for stacking toolbars in a computer display
  3. Automated web site creation using template driven generation of active server page applications
  4. Aggregation of system settings into objects
  5. Timing and velocity control for displaying graphical information
  6. Timing and velocity control for displaying graphical information
  7. Method and system for identifying and obtaining computer software from a remote computer
  8. System and method for controlling access to data entities in a computer network

 

At the CloudForce 2 event, platform director, Peter Coffee added that it would not impact Salesforce.com's business in any way and took another shot at Microsoft, saying that Azure "violates the promise of the cloud."

Is Salesforce Really Concerned?

It is interesting that Salesforce has made such a robust statement that is bound to get a lot of media play. If Salesforce had felt seriously threatened, then it would have played nicely and got to court as quickly as possible to blow Microsoft out of the water there.

The comments, made by Benioff, were backed up with concern of the effect a Microsoft victory could have on smaller outfits who would not have the money to take Microsoft to court and would have to fold and sign a royalty agreement.

Interestingly, Microsoft rarely pushes straight to court, rather taking the quieter push to a royalty agreement. So, it seems likely the two have been trying to do a deal out of sight, which hasn't come off, prompting the action. Of course, the Seattle company has been on the receiving end of some stinging patent defeats in court, so success is far from guaranteed.

Should the Little Guy Be Worried?

There has been much murmuring on the Web about the fight, with most lining firmly up behind Salesforce. Zoho reckons on its blog that any Web-company could be Microsoft's target tomorrow. 37Signals, the collaboration outfit behind Basecamp, calls the act "pathetic" in its own (sailor-language within) post