Microsoft patent peace for our time

Isn't Microsoft just buying patent peace in our time?
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive on

Another day, another Microsoft patent deal. This time with Amazon.

And more whining from Linux advocates that this is a "Microsoft tax" aimed at making Linux users pay Microsoft for the open source operating system.

I have thought that too. But let me play devil's advocate a moment, using as my text Marshall Phelps' Burning the Ships.

Isn't Microsoft just buying patent peace for our time?

Think about it. We are never told how much money changes hands in these transactions. It could be a dime, or some other token. It's certainly less than the targets would spend on lawyers defending a patent suit.

And who are Microsoft's targets? Mainly big companies, tech outfits with patents of their own, who have as much to lose from patent war as Microsoft. The terms can't be too onerous. TomTom continues rolling along after caving in to Microsoft's "demands."

So who, assuming this continues, is the real target? I'd say it would be patent trolls, of whom Microsoft faces a host. The nastiest may be its own former chief technology officer, Nathan Myhrvold.

The only brief Microsoft filed in the Bilski case, still before the Supreme Court, supported the idea of patents protecting only software that causes physical transformation. Microsoft is not arguing that all software can be patented.

Arguments in the patent case now called Bilski vs. Kappos, held in November, seemed to tilt toward approval of limits on software patents, maybe the full elimination of business method patents. Both sides came in from criticism from both sides of the bench.

But a deal on assets that are made worthless by a court is still a deal. Microsoft has assets of dubious quality, and every incentive to make deals now.

My guess is Amazon got a good one.

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