Open-source programs step on 235 Microsoft patents, the company said. Free Linux software violates 42 patents. Graphical user interfaces, the way menus and windows look on the screen, breach 65. E-mail programs step on 15, and other programs touch 68 other patents, the company said. The patent figures were first reported by Fortune magazine.
Microsoft also said Open Office, an open-source program supported in part by Sun Microsystems Inc., infringes on 45 patents. Sun declined to comment on the allegation.
[…] “[Linux is] one of the few operating systems that represents a viable threat that Microsoft has a great deal of difficulty containing,” Gillen said, because the developers share their code.
“Microsoft can’t drive a company out of business and make Linux go away,” the analyst said.
Instead, Microsoft has struck a number of patent-licensing deals with companies that use open source code, most notably Novell Inc. last November. In one aspect of the deal, Microsoft agreed to sell Novell’s flavor of Linux, called Suse. It also agreed not to sue the customers who bought it, even though it claims the open-source software infringes on its patents.
[…] Open-source proponents are frustrated by Microsoft’s repeated allusions to patent violations because “they never say what patents being violated, never make any assertions, never put the evidence out there,” said Larry Augustin, a technology startup investor who launched SourceForge.net, a prominent open-source development site, in 1999.
But Augustin also acknowledged that it’s not in Microsoft’s interest to do so: Open-source programmers could rewrite their code to avoid infringing on specific patents, or the courts could find that Microsoft’s patent isn’t valid.
If Microsoft were to start suing, it could also kick off a patent war on a grand scale. An organization called the Open Innovation Network, funded by IBM Corp., Red Hat Inc. and others, has amassed a vast number of software patents. In the event of a Microsoft lawsuit against open source companies or customers, the OIN would retaliate in kind.
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