Has there ever been restrictions from Adobe on using PDF format?

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I have been trying to find information if Adobe has ever forbidden Microsoft from allowing MS Office to include PDF export function.

The topic came up when I said that Open Office hade PDF export before MS Office, and someone responded that is was because Adobe did not give Microsoft a license until PDF became an ISO standard.

As far as I know the PDF specification has been freely available for a long time even before PDF became as ISO standard, and for example Open Office had PDF export support in 2003 (PDF became ISO standard in 2008).

I have never heard of that Adobe would have required a license for programs to be able to create PDF.


Nermander, a quick trawl brought me to this: http://partners.adobe.com/public/developer/support/topic_legal_notices.html

This states that:
Quote"Adobe desires to promote the use of PDF for information interchange among diverse products and applications. Accordingly, the following patents are licensed on a royalty-free, nonexclusive basis for the term of each patent and for the sole purpose of developing software that produces, consumes, and interprets PDF files that are compliant with the Specification"

And the page also points to US patent 5,860,074 which, at first glance, seems to be a general "PDF reader" patent, even though it doesn't mention PDF, and is dated Jan. 12, 1999. So, if this patent was made nonexclusive on that date, it seems that PDF creation has been allowable by anything since 1999 at the latest. That patent can be downloaded from here: http://www.archpatent.com/patents/5860074 (just scroll down a bit).

That patent references the "Portable Document Format Reference Manual" which, in the 1996 version (http://www.pdf-tools.com/public/downloads/pdf-reference/pdfreference12.pdf), says, in part:
QuoteAdobe gives permission to anyone to:
• Prepare files in which the file content conforms to the Portable Document
Write drivers and applications that produce output represented in the Portable Document Format.
• Write software that accepts input in the form of the Portable Document Format and displays the results, prints the results, or otherwise interprets a file represented in the Portable Document Format.

So, essentially, PDF creation looks like it's been allowable for everyone since 1996 at the latest.

If my memory serves me correctly - and it's not great at the best of times - the late 90's was around the time that a lot of "PDF creator" software came out, specifically printer drivers. I can't remember when MS Office started to include PDF creation but I know that at least some of the British universities still to this day advocate using printer driver PDF creation as the default method - probably because they don't have the money to upgrade to the latest versions of MS Office.

I've a feeling that it will probably be impossible to know why MS Office didn't have PDF creation built-in - until a certain point in time - without getting insider info' from Microsoft. And even then that would probably be shrouded in legal language and obfuscation.

If MS and Adobe had been having an argument over specific technologies - or whatever - then it would not be difficult to see Adobe stopping MS from using some of their stuff out of spite.

Or maybe MS didn't want to include it just in case Adobe changed their mind and started charging for it. Even a tiny percentage of profits per MS Office installation would add up to a huge amount.

Anyway, I hope my ramblings have been of some help and I hope you eventually find out the real facts, and, I for one would be interested to know when/if you do.


Well, I was referred to an article in Wall Street Journal that shows that in 2006 there was some kind of dispute between Adobe and Microsoft.

I can't understand how for example Ghostscript could be allowed to create PDF while MS Office was not...


QuoteI can't understand how for example Ghostscript could be allowed to create PDF while MS Office was not...

GhostScript is an Open Source project, that means they don't make money with it.
Micro$oft makes money with the software, substantial profits, and thus Adobe would have required a license fee, which is fair because they had all the brain and work and expenses, while MS just wanted to skim the profits.


Well, it seems as if it was not a matter of licensing, Adobe were going take the anti-trust route against Microsoft.

As GarryP showed Adobe already had given anybody the rights to write programs that create PDF files, so Adobe were trying to say that MS had a to big market share to be allowed to include PDF generation in MS Office.

There were like dozens of "PDF printer drivers" out there that Adobe never took any action against. MS would not get any extra benefits from including PDF creation, they would just take away benefits from the companies selling PDF creation software.

MS Office 2003 did not include PDF creation, for MS Office 2007 it was a downloadable add-on.


Without trying to look too cynical, I think it's simply a matter of specification ownership.

Microsoft doesn't like using technologies it can't control, hence we got: WMF (vs. Postscript), BMP (vs. TIFF/JPEG etc.), WAV (vs. MP3/MPEG etc.), .NET (vs. Apache/PHP etc.), Silverlight (vs. Flash/Quicktime), the IE "quirks" that still plague web developers today, etc. etc. (I realise I've got some of the tech/chronology wrong but you get the picture.)

If Microsoft can't control the specification it can't make money from it. The usual chain of control is: "Control the spec. -> Control the application -> Control the users -> Control the companies -> Control the money".

With PDF being "open" but controlled by Adobe the first link is broken so Microsoft wasn't bothered about using it until its major corporate customers started demanding it (and since StarOffice was becoming more popular and losing them money).

It's just simple economics. Why bother going to the expense of including something in your products if it's not going to make you more money? Until, of course, not including it starts losing you money.

It's surprising - to me at least - that Microsoft didn't try and make it's own version of PDF but they ignored the web until 1995 so maybe they thought it too wouldn't catch on. I suppose someone was kicking themselves afterwards; just think how much money it could have made out of licensing a Microsoft Portable Document Format. (And how much hassle it would have been for everyone else. We might not have Scribus now if it happened. A scary thought.)


Well, that was about the point I was trying to make in the disussion where the question evolved. It was a discussion about open source versus closed source software and my point was that MS did not include the ability to create a PDF until competitors did. But the "closed source advocates" stated that they were not allowed to do so by Adobe. And that I didn't really beleive.


I think you're right not to believe that Adobe didn't allow Microsoft to create PDFs. I don't think it would be in their best long-term interests.

Even though PDF is an "open" specification, it's still in Adobe's favour for more software to create PDFs. The more people use PDFs the more people will need to use them - they easily become a de-facto standard and businesses hate to change standards.

And since Adobe control the spec. they have first and final say over improvements and new features so they can introduce new stuff into their products ahead of the competition. This way, the people who need the new stuff straight away will have to stick with Adobe products or wait ages for competitors to catch up.

I can imagine a situation where Adobe may have created an industry-wide working group for discussing the PDF spec. and I can also imagine Microsoft trying to muscle in on that group in order to change things to their advantage. If that might have happened then I can imagine that Adobe would have been annoyed and tried to bring some kind of legal case against Microsoft for some un-related issue - as a kind of "if you push us we'll push you back" - but I have no proof of this. It's just a possible situation that could have happened, but this kind of thing happens all the time with big corporations. There is always some corporate posturing happening for one reason or another. Big businesses rarely play nice with others, especially where big money is involved.


PDF is not longer owned by Adobe, as of PDF 1.7 it is an ISO standard and future development is done by ISO.


I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not. Companies can generally make changes/improvements faster than standards bodies. But then again, companies don't always make changes that users want or need. Time will tell I suppose.

(But I'd say that my argument, in its intended historical context, still stands, as a generalisation.)


At a certain point of a development cycle stability becomes more important than flexibility.

Remember HTML around version 3?


I know what you mean.

(Thankfully I wasn't developing web sites around the time of HTML 3.2. I can remember talking to people back then who were tearing their hair out though.)