Microsoft sees patent violation

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Microsoft has given a figure for the first time on the number of its patents it judges the free and open-source software movement is violating – 235.

Microsoft said the heart of the Linux operating system infringed 42 Microsoft patents; its graphical user interface violated 65. The Open Office suite, an open-source version of Microsoft Office, infringed 45, e-mail programs another 15 and other assorted free and open-source software amounted to 68 patent violations.

The figures were revealed in an interview with Brad Smith, Microsoft general counsel, and Horacio Gutierrez, head of intellectual property and licensing, with Fortune magazine.

Microsoft observers interpreted the revelations as an attempt by Microsoft to undermine the open-source movement by spreading fear among its potential and existing users over royalties liabilities.

“Microsoft doesn’t have to sue anybody. The company just needs to generate FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) about open-source software,” said Joe Wilcox on the Microsoft Watch blog.

“The company can insinuate that liability could extend to the enterprise using open-source software. But, c’mon, there is no way Microsoft would ever really sue enterprises because they’re its customers too.”

Microsoft is also trying to push software users towards versions of open-source software provided by Novell, a networking company with key patents that it struck a deal with last year. The arrangement got round the terms of the GNU General Public License, a licence written by the movement’s messiah, Richard Stallman, to make program source code free and sharable.

Instead of paying a royalty to Microsoft for patents, Novell agreed a cross-licensing deal where it would pay a percentage of its Linux revenues as part of a deal not to sue each other’s customers for patent violations.

Mr Gutierrez said on Monday: “Microsoft and Novell already developed a solution that meets the needs of customers, furthers interoperability, and advances the interests of the industry as a whole. Any customer that is concerned about Linux IP issues needs only to obtain their open source subscriptions from Novell.”

The GPL is being revised in response to the Microsoft-Novell deal, which means Microsoft classed as a Linux distributor by its reselling of coupons to customers that can be exchanged for Novell’s version of Linux server software.

Mr Stallman’s Free Software Foundation argues this would mean Microsoft would effectively be waiving its right to bring patent suits against Linux users.

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