Microsoft puts an end to Amazon's "free" Linux usage

Microsoft puts an end to Amazon's "free" Linux usage

Summary: Has Microsoft managed to spread a "Microsoft tax" to Linux?


Has Microsoft managed to spread a "Microsoft tax" to Linux?

Microsoft has spent a lot of time trying to persuade us that Linux violates patents that the Redmond giant holds. These claims are usually vague and unspecific but sometimes a number is thrown about to try to convince us of the scale of the patent violation and make companies wary of adopting the free platform. Proof is usually thin on the ground.

Note: It is likely, but not confirmed, that at least one of the patents in question here relates to VFAT. It's important to note that the Linux Foundation maintain that Microsoft's VFAT patents are not valid (and also note that the US is one of the few countries that recognises software patants).

Last year Microsoft sued GPS maker TomTom, but even this actual lawsuit didn't help us clearly determine if, and to what scale, Linux infringes on patents held by Microsoft. But this doesn't stop FUD being profitable, as Amazon has now entered into a "patent deal" with the Redmond giant.

The deal covers both Amazon's Kindle product as well as the company's use of Linux-based servers. Microsoft has maintained that many implementations of Linux infringe on its patents and has signed numerous licensing deals that cover Linux with both companies that sell Linux-based software and those that use the operating system in their hardware.

So not only is Amazon paying Microsoft to use Linux, Amazon is also licensing its own technology to the company ... just to use Linux.

Here's the official press release from Microsoft:

REDMOND, Wash. - Feb. 22, 2010 - Microsoft Corp. today announced that it has signed a patent cross-license agreement with Inc. The agreement provides each company with access to the other's patent portfolio and covers a broad range of products and technology, including coverage for Amazon's popular e-reading device, KindleTM, which employs both open source and Amazon's proprietary software components, and Amazon's use of Linux-based servers. Although specific terms of the agreement are confidential, Microsoft indicated that will pay Microsoft an undisclosed amount of money under the agreement.

"We are pleased to have entered into this patent license agreement with," said Horacio Gutierrez, corporate vice president and deputy general counsel for Intellectual Property and Licensing at Microsoft. "Microsoft's patent portfolio is the largest and strongest in the software industry, and this agreement demonstrates our mutual respect for intellectual property as well as our ability to reach pragmatic solutions to IP issues regardless of whether proprietary or open source software is involved."

The licensing agreement is another example of the important role IP plays in ensuring a healthy and vibrant IT ecosystem. Since Microsoft launched its IP licensing program in December 2003, the company has entered into more than 600 licensing agreements and continues to develop programs that make it possible for customers, partners and competitors to access its IP portfolio. The program was developed to open access to Microsoft's significant R&D investments and its growing, broad patent and IP portfolio. In recent years, Microsoft has entered into similar agreements with other leading companies, including Apple Inc., HP, LG Electronics, Nikon Corp., Novell Inc., HOYA CORPORATION PENTAX Imaging Systems Division, Pioneer Corp., Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and Fuji Xerox Co. Ltd.

That's a pretty sweet deal for Microsoft, wouldn't you say?

So far, Amazon has declined to comment on this agreement.

[UPDATE: It seems a number of you are having problems comprehending the scale of this settlement and seem to be guessing that it's only relevant to VFAT or Kindle. Time for a breath and re-read the following from Microsoft's press release:

"The agreement provides each company with access to the other's patent portfolio and covers a broad range of products and technology, including coverage for Amazon's popular e-reading device, KindleTM, which employs both open source and Amazon's proprietary software components, and Amazon's use of Linux-based servers."

That's the clearest indication so far from Microsoft that if you use Linux-based servers, the company, at the very least, wants you to think you own it money.

Also, this isn't about suing, these settlements represent a revenue stream for Microsoft without the hassle of having to bring the courts into the picture. In the larger game, Microsoft seems unwilling to take the FOSS community head-on, probably because that would mean having to face up to Red Hat, a move that would bring Microsoft face-to-face with IBM. A move best avoided.]

[UPDATE 2: Interesting opinion by PJ on Groklaw: "But if I might point out, Amazon isn't a Linux company, and it sells a hardware device. And I gather Microsoft's MO is to make any company signing up with them in a patent cross licensing deal sign an NDA, so only Microsoft speaks in public, then they put out a press release which makes claims no one can check or verify, wave their arms about Linux, then go on to the next victim. Unless they show some details, it means absolutely nothing to me, except that Microsoft is very good at marketing FUD."]

Topics: Operating Systems, Legal, Linux, Microsoft, Open Source, Software

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  • Sweet deal? If they own the patent then they own it.

    No big deal, business as usual.
    • Patent is only a right to sue. And not necessarily win.

      If you frame your patent in glass and hang it on the wall, it does nothing. You have to watch out for people who may be breaching your patent. Then you can sue them. Or maybe you'd rather make a deal with them.

      And the standard by which a patent is granted is typically less rigorous than a trial in court, where they may look at your patent and tell you, not only that the defendant didn't breach your rights, but that you don't own anything there at all.

      I don't play poker, but I gather this is an imxortant element in the game.
      Robert Carnegie 2009
      • Where is Gary Kildahl

        Oh yes, he died before he could sue M$ for infringing upon DOS.
        • Time for MS to Put Up or Shut Up - Tired of hearing the MS Patent Whining.

          Ignore MS rants till they spell our what they are ranting about.
          Basic Logic
          • Out up? WHy? Do they owe you some thing?

            Oh wait, this was between Amazon and MS and it's none of your business. Reality bites doesn't it?
          • Tired of hearing the MS Patent Whining.

            My feeling exactly - it is now and has always been.

            Microsoft is banking on the fact that those they are attacking do not have not enough money that they can afford to waste to call their bluff.
        • Gary Won the Lawsuit, but Lost the War Because of Mutual Greed! ;)

          Bend over and pull your head out before you
          make ignorant comments like that. Not only did
          Gary Kildall win, but in the settlement,
          Microsoft agreed to begin selling CP/M as an
          alternative to their Quick and Dirty Operating
          System Copy/clone!

          But he made many greedy decisions that killed
          any competitive advantage. Exorbitant license
          fees was just one of them. Trusting Microsoft
          to fairly price both systems was another!

          In the end, Microsoft reduced the price of MDOS
          (copy/clone) so far below CP/M that businesses
          and corporations went for the cheaper option.
          This ploy is also what made MS Windows a more
          viable option than Apple's computers and OS.
          Thus both Apple and Gary Kildall ended up
          shooting themselves in their own foot!
          ...called a case of severe foot to mouth

          If Microsoft doesn't watch it, they are liable
          to fall for the same trick Apple and Kildall
          fell for! .....greed of overpricing themselves
          out of the market!!!
    • Which patent?

      Oh, that's right -- they won't say.

      Don, I have a patent you're infringing. Pay up. No, I won't tell you what you're doing that allegedly infringes.
      Yagotta B. Kidding
      • Are you honestly trying to say Amazon

        would just sign a check without knowing what it was paying for? Or would sign the deal if they thought they had a leg to stand on?
        MS's legal team is pretty good, but they are nowhere near that good.

        I'd say it is a very clear indication that everyone (outside of some folks leaving comments here of course) knows MS is holding tangible, valid patents against Linux.
        And no company wants to start a shooting war yet.
        • You better pay what they ask or you will lose even if you win it in Court

          Defending from a deep pocketed determined litigant no matter how right you are is always hugely expensive.

          You lose whichever way you go about it.
          The Mentalist
          • Actually it is not!

            If you win you can be reimbursed for your expenses. Amazon had no problem going after others for their "one-click" patent. I doubt they are scared of legal fees.
          • What about delays, image damage and lost business?

            Would they also be reimbursed for that? Or would the reimbursement be only a small fraction of their losses? Amazon is clearly betting on the later.

            Picking a fight with a legal powerhouse such as Microsoft would be suicidal. Microsoft's legal team is second to none, they are the largest and most talented of all Microsoft teams, they are Microsoft's best team by far.
            The Mentalist
          • Not in the USA

            <blockquote>If you win you can be reimbursed for your expenses.</blockquote>

            And I'm sure you have plenty of examples where a patent-case defendant was reimbursed.

            Yagotta B. Kidding
          • Actually it IS!!

            Reimbursed for expenses??? Court costs only, not attorney fees....and that's what is expensive.
          • Reimbursement? NOT.

            Actually you generally cannot be reimbursed for your expenses when you win a lawsuit, that must be specifically provided for in the legal definition of your claim. For contract claims such as patent there is normally no recovery for expenses. That's why you lose even if you win. And that's how MS got where it is today, it sold someone else's software (Tim Patterson of Seattle Software) to IBM to create the original PC-DOS and when Tim sued for royalties as owner of the software, MS offered him $50,000 to settle the suit pointing out that he would be bankrupt otherwise since by then MS had several million dollars to spend on lawyers (plus the fact that Bill Gates' father was one of the leading partners in Seattle's largest law firm, Bogle and Gates). So MS essentially got rich, while Tim who developed the software only got $50,000. That's how MS has done business ever since the day when Bill Gates discovered that his BASIC interpreter was being "shared" by hobbyists without paying MS. Yes, this is fact and has been documented, but of course is covered by NDA as all MS agreements are just to prevent the public from really understanding what is being done.
          • You are correct

            The costs to defend your firm against Microsoft could financially harm even a sizable company like Amazon. The patents that Microsoft claims to own may be invalid, but it could be enormously expensive to invalidate those patents.

            In lengthy US civil suits, the winners almost never have their legal costs covered by the losers - you might be thinking of the UK. Of course, there are no software patent suits in the UK, or just about anywhere else for that matter since software patents aren't recognized by most of the world.
        • RE: Paying Up

          It actually means one of two things. Either a) Microsoft really does own patents that Linux infringes on, or b) Amazon calculated the cost of fighting Microsoft in court and determined the licensing deal was cheaper than defending themselves. Just because someone doesn't pursue legal defense doesn't always mean they're in the wrong. Sometimes it just means that it costs more to fight it than to pay the person to go away. See Also: Medical Malpractice.
          • What it adds up to is legalized extortion !!!

          • your point?

          • Normally extortion is illegal...

            But because bigger companies can use threats of suing for ambiguous violations of patents and get money they may or may not be entitled too.
            The company being threatened has to do a cost analysis cheaper to pay or fight, regardless of right or wrong.

            Organized crime does the same thing.

            You pay us X to prevent bad things from happening to your business, you do not pay and they damage your business. Sounds about the same to me.