Samba project leader Jeremy Allison has accused Microsoft of trying to prevent people using and
distributing software under the GNU General Public Licence, by forcing cross-patent licensing deals.
You can't use GPL software and do patent cross-licensing deals with Microsoft (or anyone, for that matter) that cover the GPL software
Samba developer Jeremy Allison
Allison claimed to ZDNet.com.au sister site ZDNet UK in an email interview last week that through lawsuits such as the one recently launched against TomTom, Microsoft was attempting to encourage
licensing deals which are proscribed under the GPL.
"You can't use GPL software and do patent cross-licensing
deals with Microsoft (or anyone, for that matter) that cover the
GPL software," Allison wrote. "If
you do so, you lose the rights to redistribute the software.
That's the either/or choice that Microsoft is offering the
industry — use our stuff, or we'll stop you using the
The Samba open source software project provides software for
file and print interoperability between Linux and Windows. In 2007, Samba and Microsoft signed an agreement that
allowed the organisations to strike an interoperability deal.
Microsoft's suit against TomTom alleges that the GPS company
infringes on Microsoft patents pertaining to Linux. Allison said
Microsoft was attempting to use these suits as leverage to
encourage cross-patent deals with other companies.
"We put our software out there for everyone to use under the
terms of the GPL licence," wrote Allison. "Microsoft not only
doesn't want to use it (which is their right, of course), but they
are trying to prevent others from using it by these legal threats.
That's where I take issue with what they are doing."
However, Ronald Zink, Microsoft's chief intellectual-property
counsel in Europe, told ZDNet UK last week that Microsoft was not
seeking to threaten the open source community with patent
"If you think of IP and what can be achieved, IP can be used as
a method of collaboration rather than a litigation-oriented
approach," said Zink. "We have filed three lawsuits over patents,
versus approximately 500 inbound/outbound [patent] licence deals,
in the last five years. You might think of it as a currency."
Microsoft has claimed there are 235 patents that Linux software
allegedly infringes, but the company has consistently declined to
say which patents they are. Zink said that typically, patent
licensing was done between companies and individuals.
IP can be used as a method of collaboration rather than a litigation-oriented approach
Microsoft counsel Ronald Zink
"We will talk about patents and how they relate to our
technologies, but it's on the basis of private conversations
rather than openly broad negotiation," said Zink. "We are willing
to license on reasonable terms, and we have covenants not to sue
open source developers or for research and development."
Zink added that the covenants, which also extend to those
companies such as Novell which agree to cross-license, "give
understanding and certainty to people".
However, Microsoft's patent moves may damage its standing in
the open source community. Allison said that Samba will not trust
Microsoft as long as the software company maintains and pursues
patent claims against Linux.
"While Microsoft has started to sue companies for using
technologies in Linux and other free software then, no, Samba is
not going to trust them," wrote Allison. "Trust is a two-way
Microsoft has been making outreach efforts to the open source
community, by working with Red Hat and Suse developers, and by
working on interoperability. It has also encouraged companies such
as Novell to sign licensing deals.
However, Allison said Microsoft's pursuit of companies such as
TomTom for supposed infringement of Linux patents meant that the
Samba community was wary of the software company.
Allison also spoke out about the TomTom case in February, saying
Microsoft's move would alienate the open source community.