“An act of war.” “Microsoft against the free world.” “Desperate.”
Bloggers reacted strongly Wednesday to reports by AP and Fortune on Microsoft’s claim that free software like Linux violates in total 235 of it’s patents. The original article in Fortune, written by senior editor Roger Parloff, points at possible consequences: “It (Microsoft) wants royalties from distributors and users. Users like you, maybe,” Parloff writes.
Microsoft‘s message is described as a threat against the broad community of developers (individuals, entrepreneurs and companies) that have embraced the world of free software. Fortune notes that more than half the companies in the Fortune 500-list are thought to be using Linux in their data centers.
According to AP this is what Microsoft’s break-down of violated patents looks like: Linux software violates 42 patents, further graphical user interfaces breach 65, e-mail programs step on 15. Also Open Office – an open-source program supported in part by Sun Microsystems – infringes on 45 patents and other programs touch 68 other patents. “There is no reason why any segment of the industry needs to be exempt from intellectual property rules,” Horacio Gutierrez, a Microsoft vice president for intellectual property and licensing, says according to AP.
So is open source really under a big threat? Are we going to see a number of lawsuits? Or is this just a road-bump in the rise of free media? Are we watching Microsoft’s sales failures being blamed on the marketplace, as Doc Searls suggests at his weblog.
At BriefingsDirect Dana Gardner describes Microsofts move as an “act of desperation”. His analysis: “So, Microsoft wants to make war on its competitors, using you (dear enterprise) as its proxies, but via not violence per se but rather the threat of legal action against you (dear enterprise) while charging you (dear enterprise) to switch to Microsoft’s minions. If there was ever a case for open source software, dear readers, this is it. Microsoft, of course, does not really want to take you, dear enterprise, to court. They would prefer to threaten, posture, evoke concern.”
And at his personal blog Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of Sun, gives his view: “You would be wise to listen to the customers you’re threatening to sue – they can leave you, especially if you give them motivation,” he writes adding that no amount of fear can stop the rise of free media or free software since the community is vastly more innovative and powerful than a single company.
At the corporate Linux-blog Joe Barr asks Linus Torvalds, father of the Linux kernel, if he has any comment on Microsoft’s claims of infringes on patents.
“Can you get a list of which ones? Before that, it’s just FUD, and there’s not a whole lot I can say or do. Is there prior art? Are they trivial and obvious to one skilled in the art? Would we need to work around them? We don’t know, because all I’ve heard so far is just FUD,” Torvalds replies.
Joe Barr also writes that Free Software Foundation legal counsel Eben Moglen last week said that the threat of lawsuits is often more effective than actually suing, because if you sue you have to stipulate which patents are being infringed and show that the patents are good.
So – is Microsoft actually ready to go to court in a case where it might be percieved as the antithesis of the free world? Or is the company just trying create some noise and get press? Intellectual property in the world of web 2.0 is a very important issue to address. But the question is if it should be done in front of a judge.
By John Furrier and Tina Magnergard Bjers