Microsoft patents CPU-based software locks

Microsoft has applied for a patent for a CPU-based software licensing system that opens up software only upon receipt of a CPU-based activation from a distribution service. Entitled Licensing the use of software on a particular CPU, the proposed technology would in effect lock a particular copy of software (say, Windows, Office, or a console-based game), or portion thereof (i.e., features, weapons, levels) for use only on a single, specific computer or device. Or at least die trying!

A method for providing access to an application, comprising: determining an activation code based on a unique identifier of a computing device on which the application is to be run and an application identifier associated with the application; and providing the activation code to the computing device.

The unlocking code may be based on a unique identifier of the computing device and an identifier associated with the software seeking to be accessed. Thus, the code may only be used by the computing device having that unique identifier. This prevents unauthorized or unlicensed computing devices from using the software.

Sounds similar to the TPM (trusted platform module) technology used by Apple in the developer releases of the Intel version of Mac OSX Tiger, which was supposed to lock a particular copy of the OS to only a single, specific CPU. Note that Apple’s restriction was promptly cracked a few days after copies of the x86 Mac OSX was leaked.

I’m wondering how this technology proposed by Microsoft will fly–this is reminiscent of an earlier attempt at a license verification mechanism, the Windows Genuine Advantage, which was cracked within a day of announcement.

So will this be included in Vista? Microsoft says one of the reasons it’s delaying Vista release until early 2007 is “to improve security.”

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