Rantings of a Software Developer

Microsoft's Patent Accusations

By Carey Bishop, in , posted: 18-May-2007 07:54

This week has seen a number of Linux companies form their replies to Microsoft's accusations that Linux and it's related open-source applications violate about 235 patents owned by Microsoft. So far, Microsoft have yet to tell anyone what the patents cover, nor have they actually started any legal action against any of the developers or vendors.

As a regular observer of Microsoft's shoddy and down-right-ugly-yet-still-legal practices, this is no surprise to me. Microsoft's goal is obviously to scare customers into thinking that they may loose their investment and possibly more of their own cash in legal fees and reperations, if it is found that Linux does violate these unnamed patents. It should also be noted that a number of companies have strict guidelines that they are not able to enter into any contract with a vendor if there is pending legal action against that business.

The reality is that (as stated many times on Digg and Slashdot,) Microsoft have no intention of actually suing anyone. The number of people they would be fighting is fair bigger than anything Microsoft Legal could handle. If the patents were named, it would be a matter of weeks (if not, days) before the offending code was altered or removed from the source trees, so there would be no further violation of these patents.

But by using scaremongery, Microsoft have achieved the ultimate solution. Despite how obvious this ploy may look to IT professionals, a lot of Linux customers and vendors are shaking in their boots scared of what might happen. All of this without Microsoft having to spend a cent.

More information

Comment by taniwha, on 18-May-2007 08:51

and it's been done before.

in practise, the companies that avoid linux because of this weren't using linux in the first place. They require contracts and Debian won't give them one. in my experience those companies are using unix not linux.

Comment by freitasm, on 18-May-2007 09:08

I've spoken to Microsoft New Zealand's Director of Innovation Brett Roberts about this issue. There's no need to :shake in their boots".

He puts it is clear: there are three ways to deal with patent: ignore, litigate and license.

Brett told me Microsoft is not into litigation, but patents can't be ignored. So the friendly option available is licensing, and this is what they are doing.

As in many organisations licensing, patents, copyright stuff needs lawyers involved.

As for Digg and Slashdot crowds.... Digg will "digg" anything with "Apple" in it, and Slashdot will distribute FUD for anything with "Microsoft" in it...

Comment by freitasm, on 18-May-2007 09:16

By the way, check this taken from a speek of Richard Stallman from the Fifth International GPLv3 Conference:

A few years ago, I realised that there were other ways software patents might be used to make software non-free, so we're designing GPL version 3 to block them too. For instance, one issue is, what if the developer of the software has a patent on it, or rather, has a patent on some particular computational technique used in the program. I made a terrible mistake when I said "has a patent on the program", that's not how patents work. I know better, and yet I still made this mistake. There's no such thing as a patent on a program, software patents don't work that way. Every software patent is a monopoly on a certain kind of technical functionality or method. A program violates the patent if anywhere inside the program it implements that method or that functionality. The result is that one program can infringe any number of patents at the same time.

Two years ago, a thorough study found that the kernel Linux infringed 283 different software patents, and that's just in the US. Of course, by now the number is probably different and might be higher.

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Carey Bishop
New Zealand