Microsoft's Claims About Linux Patent Infringement Are Old News And Old FUD
from the we've-heard-this-before dept
Well, well, well. The tech blogosphere is all abuzz concerning an article that came out this weekend in Fortune that has Microsoft claiming that open source software violates 235 Microsoft patents and that they want royalties for those patents. While some (including people submitting this story to us) suggest this means Microsoft is suing, that’s not the case at all. They’re just creating their standard FUD — and it’s not even new FUD. In 2004, Microsoft announced that Linux violated “more than 228 patents”. This is doubly amusing, since the Fortune piece claims that its interview was “the first time” that Microsoft has ever revealed the precise number of patents. That’s not true, unless you count the “more than” as not being precise. Of course, last time this happened, the research group that Microsoft based the 228 number on later said Microsoft took its research out of context. Either way, if all they’ve done is gone from 228 to 235 in 3 years, maybe that’s not so bad.
Still, the key point here is that Microsoft can puff the numbers up and talk all it wants, and it’s all just typical Microsoft FUD until they do something. The Fortune article notes that Microsoft has been quietly pushing on corporations to pay up — and that started in earnest in (well, look at that…) 2004. So, my guess is that the 2004 burst of publicity convinced a bunch of companies to quietly pay up, but things have quieted down and Microsoft is fanning the flames to get a new round of quiet license fees out of companies who get a visit from the big bad Microsoft machine, and feel that it’s cheaper to pay up than risk a fight (some might call that a shakedown, but we’ll avoid that for now). In the meantime, this really is all meaningless unless Microsoft actually is willing to point out the 235 patents, say where they believe the infringement occurs and is willing to defend itself in court and at the Patent Office on those points. So far, we haven’t seen that. Perhaps that’s because Microsoft recognizes how badly that would backfire. If there ever were a high profile case that might get the Supreme Court’s attention on whether or not software patents are legal, Microsoft trying to knock down the success of Linux seems like just such a case. However, since Microsoft probably realizes its own cases in this area have about as much a chance of success as the ill-fated patent lawsuit SCO filed, which Microsoft may have funded. Even if the case doesn’t go to the Supreme Court, the backlash against Microsoft for filing such a lawsuit would not be pleasant and would likely do a lot more harm to its reputation than the benefit of a few royalty dollars.