Monday, May 14, 2007

Open-source software infringes on its patents says Microsoft

Open-source software infringes on its patents says Microsoft

The love-hate relationship between Windows users and Linux users has existed for many years. Advocates for free open-source software feel the open-source industry develops and improves software an order of magnitude greater than anything Microsoft can dish out. The Redmond, Washington-based software giant feels otherwise, claiming that free software curbs innovation and progress.

Innovation and progress is precisely what Microsoft aims to protect, and it does so using patents. Patents are the life blood of the software industry, and if patents did not exist then innovation would not progress the way it has been, according to Microsoft.

In light of that, Microsoft now claims Linux and many other open source software infringe on its patents -- a lot of them. Microsoft claims it has the right to demand royalties from Linux distributions and essentially users of Linux. In an interview with Fortune, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer clearly indicates he is all for supporting the protection of intellectual property.

"We live in a world where we honor, and support the honoring of, intellectual property. [The open source community will have to] play by the same rules as the rest of the business. What's fair is fair," Ballmer said.

Brad Smith, senior vice president and general council to Microsoft, said patents are required in this day and age to protect innovation. Smith and the rest of Microsoft believe that without patents, ideas and methods of doing things would often be stolen. In fact, according to Smith, the Linux kernel itself violates 42 Microsoft patents. Worst yet, Linux graphical interfaces such as KDE violate another 65 patents.

Microsoft doesn't stop at Linux. Open Office and other free e-mail applications are infringing on a total of 60 patents, Smith said. According to Smith, Microsoft is like any other company trying to protect its property and rights.

"Companies are very sensitive to the importance of protecting intellectual property because ultimately they know that their own businesses similarly turn on [such] protection," Smith said.

Microsoft wants to strike a deal -- a deal with those developing and distributing Linux and other vendors of free software. The deal Microsoft wants is simple: pay up.

Novell, the propagator of the widely popular SUSE Linux already rolls dice according to Microsoft's rules. The Linux advocator recently entered into a complex deal with Microsoft over Linux patent violations. According to the deal, Microsoft and Novell agreed not to sue each other's customers, because if Novell tried to sue Microsoft it would then violate terms of the General Public License (GPL) -- the foundation on which all open-source software is based on.

Based on the terms that both companies came up with, Novell agreed to pay Microsoft a percentage of all its Linux revenue until the year 2011. However, Microsoft too ended up paying Novell over $108 million and another $240 million in resalable coupons. Judging from the fact that Microsoft ended up paying Novell more than it received, it would appear that open-software and Linux was one-up on the software giant.

According to open-software experts Microsoft is the real winner. The deal with Novell allows Microsoft to go out and demonstrate it is correct about Linux violating Microsoft patents, since Novell agreed to pay $40 million not to have its Linux customers sued for violations.

Industry insiders are now weary of what may come of Microsoft's experts. If Microsoft convinces the patent system that it is right, the open-source industry could face potential meltdown. Eben Moglen, executive director of the Software Freedom Law Center says a massive war is about to be waged on the patent battlefield.

"Patent law's going to be the terrain on which a big piece of the war's going to be fought. Waterloo is here somewhere," Moglen said.

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