Microsoft: If we're violating IP, 'we'll take a license'

Does Microsoft believe that there's a chance that its technology is infringing on open-source patents? Microsoft responds to this and other new questions surrounding its claims this week that free and open source software allegedly violates hundreds of its patents.

On May 13, Microsoft finally put a number behind its previous claims that open-source software violated Microsoft patents. In an article published in Fortune Magazine, Microsoft IP lawyers claimed that free and open-source software (FOSS) violates 235 Microsoft patents.

Now, courtesy of the same Microsoft public-relations representative who provided us press/blogger folks with Microsoft's full statement on May 14 on its latest patent-infringement claims, here are a couple more Microsoft sound bites on this issue.

Q: What kinds of tools/processes did Microsoft use to determine which open-source code allegedly infringes on Microsoft's patents?

A: No further details are available at this time.

Q: Some in the industry are saying that this isn't a one-way street -- that Microsoft's technology likely infringes on open source patents. What's Microsoft's response to that?

A: "In 2003 Microsoft announced that we were open for business and would license our IP to all comers including open source. Our patent portfolio scores very high on patent quality and science linkage ( As you may know Microsoft also licenses in the third party patent rights we need to stand behind our products and offer our customers industry leading IP indemnification.

"In the past three years we have paid more than $1.4 billion to license third party patent rights. If a company is interested in using Microsoft's IP to innovate in the marketplace they should come talk to us. Conversely, if a company believes we are using its IP they should come talk to us as well. If it is true we will take a license. That is how innovation industries work. Everyone should play by the same rules."

Q: Why is Microsoft going public with more specifics -- in terms of numbers and general technology areas allegedly infringing on your patents -- now? Why this week?

A: "The latest draft of the GPLv3 attempts to tear down the bridge that Microsoft and Novell have built between proprietary and open source software. Now that we have a solution in place we're discussing the patent issue more directly in an effort to call attention to the problem and emphasize the important need for the bridge in a world where many customers have mixed technology solutions.

"The patent issue has been recognized by others in the industry. Richard Stallman, the founder of the Free Software Foundation, and other free software leaders believe there is overlap between our IP portfolio and various open source software components. This is further supported by a review done by the Open Source-lead Open Source Risk Management group indicating areas of IP overlap between major software vendors and open source.

"Now that we have built a bridge our focus is on making it work."

That's one heck of a strategy for building bridges between proprietary and open source. Looks more like bombing bridges, to me….

I'm still waiting to see what Bill Hilf, Microsoft's general manager of platform strategy, is going to say about all this. Hilf posted to the Microsoft Port 25 blog that he was misquoted on various inflammatory statements about Linux, which were published in Bangkok the same time that Microsoft went public with its patent-infringement claims in Fortune. But so far, Hilf's been mum on Microsoft's IP lawyers' comments.