Timeline claims victory in SQL Server case

A Washington court has issued a judgement against Microsoft Corp. in a case that could prove costly for certain customers and partners who use its SQL Server database, according to software vendor Timeline Inc., which opposed Microsoft in the case.

In a judgement issued Friday, the Washington Superior Court of King County confirmed that a 1999 licensing agreement between the two companies limits Microsoft's ability to "sublicense" patented technology that was developed by Timeline and employed by Microsoft in SQL Server, Timeline said in a statement Wednesday.

The judgement means that certain customers, independent software vendors and other parties who have customized SQL Server by adding programs to it will have to pay Timeline a licensing fee for the use of its technology, according to Charlie Osenbaugh, chief executive officer at Timeline, in Bellevue, Washington.

Microsoft played down any impact the ruling may have, but wasn't prepared Wednesday to comment on the court's decision in detail.

"It's important to note that Timeline has a history throughout this case of presenting issues to create uncertainty among our customers," said Microsoft spokesman Jim Desler, adding that its unclear yet what Microsoft's next legal move will be.

The dispute goes back to about 1999, when Microsoft asked the Washington court to affirm that under the terms of its licensing agreement with Timeline, Microsoft's customers and partners are entitled to sublicense Timeline's patented technology at no charge to develop their own applications.

Timeline offered the court a different interpretation of the license. It argued at the time that the agreement "clearly distinguishes between users of Microsoft products who may employ Timeline technology, and certain third party software developers to whom Microsoft may not sublicense."

The technology in question relates to the design and use of data marts and data warehouses and is protected by three U.S. patents, according to Timeline.

Last week's judgement confirms that Microsoft's right to sublicense Timeline's technology is "substantially limited," and means that some SQL Server users may be liable to pay Timeline for use of its technology, according to Timeline's Osenbaugh. The company didn't offer a clear estimate of how many users may be affected, saying only that it believes that "some" are.

Timeline said a license to its technology ranges from US$250,000 to $5 million depending on the size of the licensee and how the technology is used.

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