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‘Alley Thugs,’ Huh. Benioff May Have Picked the Wrong Fight

Microsoft is going to throw its full weight and resources into the suit and will not give up

During salesforce.com's Q1 call with Wall Street last Thursday CEO Marc Benioff demonized Microsoft as a "patent troll" and "alley thugs" when asked about the infringement suit that Microsoft had just filed against the company.

Benioff claimed the suit won't have any impact on the company, isn't material to its day-to-day business, and won't impact its customers.

"Personally, I'm just disappointed," he said, "to see this from a former leader of our industry, but it's imminently resolvable, and it's not material to our day-to-day business. It's basically a no-impact situation. It's not something that, I think, anyone needs to make anything of. I think it probably has more ramifications for other cloud vendors than it, honestly, does for us because we're strong. And a lot of other cloud CEOs have been contacting me, and my heart goes out to them and because I feel like that's the real impact is that if you go through it, you can see where this is going. And there's obviously a next step here, and it's not about us, it's about others. So that's my unfortunate commentary on the state of our industry. It's just what's going on in our industry."

Pretty positioning but does the shoe fit Microsoft, which has so rarely exerted its patent portfolio? It's worth a closer look.

According to industry analyst Rob Enderle the suit isn't an offensive competitive suit and wasn't caused by salesforce stepping on Microsoft's CRM toes. It's not citing CRM patents.

Instead it's a defensive look-and-feel suit that cuts across Microsoft's product line and comes so close to Microsoft's DNA that Redmond had no choice but to take salesforce to court both on its own account and as a warning to any other copycats out there that figure that if their stuff looks like Microsoft's, users will get a warm rush of familiarity.

Enderle says that there's no way salesforce can emerge from this quarrel with a license and, if Microsoft wins, the only resolution will be for it to change its interface, which will of course impact users.

He also says that Microsoft is going to throw its full weight and resources into the suit and will not give up. "Losing is not an option," he said. It is "one of the most important legal efforts that Microsoft is likely to undertake."

As previously reported, Microsoft is using the chi-chi outside law firm Sidley Austin, which is known for its IP skills. The few patents salesforce has hardly constitute a portfolio.

Enderle says he's surprised salesforce picked this fight.

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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