May 13, 2007

The Shoe Drops [8:49 pm]

So much for defensive patenting — Microsoft throws down a gauntlet: Microsoft claims software like Linux violates its patents [pdf] [via Slashdot]

But now there’s a shadow hanging over Linux and other free software, and it’s being cast by Microsoft (Charts, Fortune 500). The Redmond behemoth asserts that one reason free software is of such high quality is that it violates more than 200 of Microsoft’s patents. And as a mature company facing unfavorable market trends and fearsome competitors like Google (Charts, Fortune 500), Microsoft is pulling no punches: It wants royalties. If the company gets its way, free software won’t be free anymore.

[...] So if Microsoft ever sued Linux distributor Red Hat for patent infringement, for instance, OIN might sue Microsoft in retaliation, trying to enjoin distribution of Windows. It’s a cold war, and what keeps the peace is the threat of mutually assured destruction: patent Armageddon - an unending series of suits and countersuits that would hobble the industry and its customers.

“It’s a tinderbox,” [Eben] Moglen says. “As the commercial confrontation between [free software] and software-that’s-a-product becomes more fierce, 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.”

It’ll be interesting to see what tactics MS brings to this game. Unless they are looking to test the entire notion of software patents, this seems like a particularly sticky mess to become entangled in, as I am sure that the SCO folks will attest. And I wonder what this might do to Microsoft hiring?

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