Microsoft: Free and open source software violates 235 Microsoft patents

Microsoft finally has thrown down the gauntlet and is claiming publicly that free and open-source software (FOSS) violates 235 Microsoft patents. Why has Microsoft decided to go public now with these numbers?
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft finally has thrown down the gauntlet and is claiming publicly that free and open-source software (FOSS) violates 235 Microsoft patents.

That tally comes from a newly published article in Fortune. In that article, Microsoft licensing chief Horacio Gutierrez wouldn't talk specifics. He declined to specify which Microsoft patents are being violated or how "lest FOSS advocates start filing challenges to them," according to the Fortune article.

Nonetheless, Gutierrez claimed that Linux is violating 42 Microsoft patents. Linux GUIs (graphical user interfaces) violate 65, Open Office violates 45, various free/open e-mail programs violate another 15, and assorted, sundry free/open-source software programs violate 68 Microsoft patents, Gutierrez said.

That total is quite different from the last alleged count of the number of violations by Linux/open-source patents on Microsoft and other closed-source products. In 2004, Dan Ravicher, founder and executive director of the Public Patent Foundation, conducted an analysis for Open Source Risk Management, an insurance company selling legal protection against Linux copyright- and patent-infringement claims. Updated: Ravicher found that 283 patents, 27 of which were owned by Microsoft, could be a basis for Linux infringement lawsuits. (Whether the infringements and/or patents would be ruled invalid in court was undetermined, he noted.)

However, the new number and claims are still noteworthy. (And they lead to me wonder which open-source vendor may be first to go public with claims that Microsoft's products are violating their patents and copyrights/copylefts... if such a notion is even fathomable.)

I can't help but wonder why Microsoft decided to go public with these claims and figures now. If the Novell-Microsoft technology partnership was really as solid as Microsoft keeps claiming, why does Microsoft need to raise questions about open-source software's legality? Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has been telling anyone who'd listen for several months now that Microsoft did the deal with Novell in order to provide customers worried about potential patent infringements by open-source software on Microsoft's products a way to assure that they wouldn't be sued by Microsoft.

So what gives? A number of us have been calling for several months for Microsoft to itemize which open-source patents the company believes Linux and other open-source software to infring upon. My guess? Microsoft must be putting pressure on other open-source software vendors to follow Novell's lead and sign covenants not to sue that Ballmer can point to when he wants to scare customers away from open source.

What's your take? What is behind Microsoft's latest decision to tout alleged open-source patent violations?

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