Microsoft apparently wants to give its cloud customers a unique new pricing structure, setting the rate based on the level of performance a customer is willing to pay for — style.

Two Microsoft Research employees last year applied for a patent for “performance-based pricing for cloud computing,” as InformationWeek reported today.

The patent application calls for a scheme wherein a business that wants to run a workload in a cloud would indicate its performance needs, and the cloud service “manager” would spit back a fee. The “manager” would also be able to accept or reject a would-be customer’s bid.

Performance parameters might consist of a deadline for the work to be done, or the number of requests a company can make to the cloud service.

If Microsoft can implement this pricing model for its growing Windows Azure public cloud, companies interested in paying more for better service could flock to it. Now that the patent has been reported on, though, all of Azure’s competitors have time to start hustling to whip up their own ways to charge based on the performance level customers desire.

Under the cover, Microsoft’s performance pricing idea could be implicitly trying to win over the minds of developers who have become unhappy with the performance levels they’ve found on big public cloud Amazon Web Services (AWS). The spot instances feature for compute power on AWS, which lets customers name their price, can fall short for customers. “[T]here is no certainty as to when a job will complete,” Microsoft researchers Navendu Jain and Ishai Menache. “There is also no certainty as to what the total execution cost will be, given dynamic market spot price.”

Meanwhile public cloud providers other than Microsoft have been looking to distinguish their offerings lately, instead of just trying to recreate everything public cloud giant Amazon Web Services (AWS) has.

For example, IBM researchers have looked at a method for allowing customers to select preferences for the carbon emissions of their workloads. That might mean charging more for running an application from a data center that’s close by, so network movement stays minimal. If IBM takes that feature to market, the tech vendor’s cloud might well appeal to companies concerned about environmental impact of their cloud workloads.

And Google charges by the minute for its Google Compute Engine public cloud service. That remains a distinguishing feature people talk about.

We’ve reached out to Microsoft to find out when Microsoft might add the pricing option to Windows Azure.