Does New Microsoft Patent Infringe On Unix Program Sudo?

Some in the open source community suspicious of Microsoft's intent
That's a problem Einschlag believes can be addressed through stronger patent law resources. "The community needs better access to people who can explain things to them," he said.

Einschlag observed that the patent examiner appeared to have been diligent in seeking to narrow the patent, which was rejected, amended, and re-submitted several times before finally being accepted.

This clashes with the view held by many patent system skeptics that patent examiners rubber-stamp even the most obvious patent claims.

The misplaced worry about Microsoft's patent may be fueled in part by broad dissatisfaction with the patent system on the part of technology companies and open source advocates. Patent reform has been a goal of companies like Microsoft and Google for years, but doing so in a way that satisfies all stakeholders hasn't proven to be easy.

For large commercial companies, there's the belief that patent holding companies, often referred to as patent trolls, operate a protection racket, demanding licensing fees as protection from expensive patent lawsuits.

Among companies that rely on open source technology, many believe that patents hinder innovation.

For startups and independent inventors, however, a patent is often the only protection strong enough to prevent a genuinely innovative product or service from being stolen or copied.

It's a complex issue with many interests and it's one the Supreme Court will soon in part address.

The Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in the Bilski case, which limited patents on business methods. (Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN)'s one-click patent is an example of a well-known business method patent.)

Einschlag said Microsoft's "Rights elevator" patent isn't likely to be affected by the Supreme Court's ruling, which he expects will invalidate Bilski on the narrowest of grounds.

If that happens, most of the issues prompting calls for patent reform will remain to be resolved another day.