Microsoft is throwing their weight around once again, and this time they are going against free and open-source software (FOSS). The 235 patent infringements in question are largely regarding the Linux operating system. They don’t give details as to what the patents cover, but they did break it down a little:
The Linux kernel – the deepest layer of the free operating system, which interacts most directly with the computer hardware – violates 42 Microsoft patents. The Linux graphical user interfaces – essentially, the way design elements like menus and toolbars are set up – run afoul of another 65, he claims. The Open Office suite of programs, which is analogous to Microsoft Office, infringes 45 more. E-mail programs infringe 15, while other assorted FOSS programs allegedly transgress 68.
It’s almost as though Microsoft has been trying to build-up to this point because the graph seen above points out that in the past few years they have been going patent crazy. As you can see though, they don’t actually receive a lot of the patents that they apply for. I expect that the ones they do receive they are going to start fighting to protect.
Back in 2003 Microsoft executives decided that it was time to determine what they need to do to protect their patents. Here are the three choices that they had come up with.
- They would do nothing, which basically means the patents would be donated to the community. This wouldn’t make shareholders very happy.
- Sue everyone who is infringing on their patents.
- Let others license the patents in return for royalties or access to their patents. This is the route Microsoft decided to take.
So now Microsoft wants royalties from all of the FOSS users, but in the end I think the FOSS community is going to be taking a different route. Obviously free and open source software is extremely popular for multiple reasons, but the biggest is that you don’t have to pay a thing. Don’t worry, I don’t think any of that will be changing, and one Slashdot commenter did a great job of summing it up:
Note: TCO = Total Cost of Ownership; OSS = Open Source Software; MAFIAA = Music and Film Industry Association of America; OSDL = Open Source Development Labs
This week press titles: “New Microsoft sponsored studies proves TCO to be higher for OSS because of patent fees“, “Microsoft to go after individual users MAFIAA style“
Next week press titles: “238 patches and upgrades on Debian and Ubuntu repositories“, “OSDL sponsored study proves that OSS has the highest reaction time in terms of patch release“
Now not every company is in trouble by Microsoft. For example, Novell drew up a deal with Microsoft last year where they agreed to give Microsoft a percentage of its Linux revenue up to the year 2011 (or a minimum of $40 million) in return for immunity from their lawyers. Other companies, including Dell and Samsung, have also drawn up deals with Microsoft which prevent them from getting sued.
I’m going to venture a guess that this is not going to settle well with the FOSS community. It will be interesting to see the reaction as more information is provided, and we find out what the actual infringements are.