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 Amazon.com 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 Amazon.com will pay Microsoft an undisclosed amount of money under the agreement.
"We are pleased to have entered into this patent license agreement with Amazon.com," 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."]