Microsoft: Open Source Violates 235+ Patents

Microsoft has come out swinging against the open source community, claiming that no fewer than 235 of their patents have been infringed upon. And they want money:

Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith and licensing chief Horacio Gutierrez sat down with Fortune recently to map out their strategy for getting FOSS users to pay royalties.

The Fortune article takes a look at Microsoft’s new strategy: to go after end users. This gets to the agreement Microsoft and Novell struck, whereby both agree not to sue each other’s clients for patent infringement. The problem for Microsoft is many of those Linux/BSD end users are also Microsoft users — and a number of them, like WalMart, are large enough to fight back.

I’ve been opposed to GPL3 up to this point, and I’m still unsure it’s the right move. Some of the proposed changes may be necessary to keep the Novells of the world from making deals that cripple the open source community at the expense of what seems like extortion (whether it’s mutual or not). As the article notes, all of this is pointing to a very messy battle — much like the one that led to the rapid rise Linux rather than BSD when AT&T stalled BSDi development by suing Cal-Berkeley.

If push comes to shove, would Microsoft sue its customers for royalties, the way the record industry has?

“That’s not a bridge we’ve crossed,” says CEO Ballmer, “and not a bridge I want to cross today on the phone with you.”

But they will have to cross it soon. While swinging with such claims as 235 cases of patent infringement and making agreements with vendors like Novell and (possibly) RedHat, Microsoft is sending out emissaries far and wide to debunk “the Linux myth” and tell the world that Linux isn’t relevant. If it isn’t, why are Ballmer, Gates, et al, threatening to sue end users?

Everything gets complicated as soon as you add two lawyers, much less entire law firms and legal departments, to an issue.

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