Anyone who has used Linux – even briefly, is probably familiar with sudo. Sudo is a commonly used UNIX command, which allows users to run programs with superuser’s privileges. It was conceived by Bob Coggeshall and Cliff Spencer around 1980 and has been an integral part of most Linux systems for decades. So why am I yapping about sudo all of a sudden? Because, Microsoft may just have patended sudo.
This is what Microsoft has been granted patent for:
Systems and/or methods are described that enable a user to elevate his or her rights. In one embodiment, these systems and/or methods present a user interface identifying an account having a right to permit a task in response to the task being prohibited based on a user’s current account not having that right.
The above excerpt fairly accurately describes sudo. However, the detailed description of the patent application goes on to describe several features, which go above and beyond sudo’s capabilities. For example, the following description doesn’t at all apply to sudo. In fact, it appropriately describes Windows’ Run asfeature.
There is one account having two tags; one tag is associated with limited rights and one tag is associated with higher rights. By default the account may be tagged with the limited-rights tag when logging in. This tag may be altered by the rights elevator on entry of the user’s password in the graphical user interfaceâ€¦
I am not lawyer and I have little knowledge about the internal workings of the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). One of the many problems with software patents is their inherent ambiguity. Patent #7,617,530 may or may not cover sudo perhaps a lawyer would be able to work that out. However, if it does indeed apply to sudo, then someone at USPTO forgot to do their research. It could also mean trouble for UNIX based OSs. Microsoft could demand royalty for including sudo (or other user rights elevator) or even sue UNIX OS developers for patent infringement.
This is a debate that would probably rage on for some time. Perhaps, further discussion will bring some much needed clarity to the situation. However, one thing is certain this controversy will only worsen Microsoft’s already poor reputation.