NEW YORK -- A row over intellectual property claims from Microsoft Corp. has dealt a fatal blow to an ambitious effort by Internet engineers to create a technical standard for curbing junk e-mail.
The failure to reach consensus on the Microsoft-championed proposal known as Sender ID throws back to the free market a process many consider urgent in view of the unabating onslaught of spam.
Sender ID's effectiveness and compatibility with existing mail systems were already in question before members of the Internet Engineering Task Force got hung up on the patent battle, said Yakov Shafranovich, a leading antispam activist. The task force, which works by consensus on Internet standards, dissolved a working group on Sender ID last week after deciding that agreement could not be achieved any time soon.
Some experts say the decision could speed up work on a different spam-control technology from Yahoo Inc., one seen as stronger but more difficult to implement.
The task force may create a working group as early as November to craft standards for digitally signing messages, an antispam approach Yahoo favors. It's possible for two or more of these technologies to work together.
The Microsoft and Yahoo proposals, along with one being tested by America Online Inc., aim to tackle e-mail spoofing, the practice of sending messages that pretend to be from someone else. The technology would not eliminate spam, but it could help block a common spam technique.
Under Sender ID, Internet service providers would submit lists of their mail servers' unique numeric addresses. On the receiving end, software would poll a database to verify that a message was actually processed by one of those servers.
Microsoft has applied for a patent on the method for polling the database. Though the company promises to make the technology available for free, it wants to bar software developers from further licensing it -- a restriction several members of the open-source community find unacceptable.
Microsoft spokesman Sean Sundwall said the company would continue to push Sender ID regardless of the task force's decision. He said smaller companies might hesitate without standards but larger ones will not change their plans.
John Levine, who heads the Anti-Spam Research Group affiliated with the task force, said members could not come to terms because they had little real-world data. But Dave Anderson, chief executive of Sendmail Inc., said he believes resolution would have been possible if not for the patent fight. Sendmail is testing various antispam schemes, including Microsoft's and Yahoo's.