September 9, 2009, 1:49 pm
Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal‚Äôs Nick Wingfield broke a story on Microsoft selling a group of patents to a third party. The end result of this story is good for Linux, even though it doesn‚Äôt placate fears of ongoing attacks by Microsoft. Open Invention Network, working with its members and the Linux Foundation, pulled off a coup, managing to acquire some of the very patents that seem to have been at the heart of recent Microsoft FUD campaigns against Linux. Break out your white hats: the good guys won.
The details are that Microsoft assembled a package of patents ‚Äúrelating to open source‚Äù and put them up for sale to patent trolls. Microsoft thought they were selling them to AST, a group that buys patents, offers licenses to its members, and then resells the patents. AST calls this their ‚Äúcatch and release‚Äù policy. Microsoft would certainly have known that the likely buyer when AST resold their patents in a few months would be a patent troll that would use the patents to attack non-member Linux companies. Thus, by selling patents that target Linux, Microsoft could help generate fear, uncertainty, and doubt about Linux, without needing to attack the Linux community directly in their own name.
This deal shows the mechanisms the Linux industry has constructed to defend Linux are working, even though the outcome also shows Microsoft to continue to act antagonistically to its customers.
We can be thankful that these patents didn‚Äôt fall into the hands of a patent troll who has no customers and thus cares not about customer or public backlash. Luckily the defenses put in place by the Linux industry show that collaboration can result in great things, including the legal protection of Linux.
The reality is that Windows and Linux will both remain critical parts of the world‚Äôs computing infrastructure for years to come. Nearly 100% of Fortune 500 companies support deployments of both Windows and Linux. Those customers, who have the ear of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, need to tell Microsoft that they do not want Microsoft‚Äôs patent tricks to interfere with their production infrastructure. It‚Äôs time for Microsoft to stop secretly attacking Linux while publicly claiming to want interoperability. Let‚Äôs hope that Microsoft decides going forward to actually try to win in the marketplace, rather than continuing to distract and annoy us with their tricky patent schemes. And, let‚Äôs offer a big round of applause to Keith Bergelt and OIN, for their perfectly executed defense of the Linux community.