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Microsoft denies saber-rattling vs. open source

Posted: 29 May 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Open source patents? patent infringement? Microsoft patents?

Microsoft Corp. has denied that it is out to resurrect its patent offensive against the open source software community. Redmond is actually going for interoperability, senior company executive Bob Muglia said.

License, not litigate
"Our approach is a licensing based one," Muglia, who heads Microsoft's server and tools business, said at the Interop business technology conference last week. "It's a real issue for customers, and one that Microsoft is addressing proactively."

He spelled out the company's position after its brewing tiff with open source vendors over accusations that they violate 235 of the software giant's patents came to the fore over comments made by his colleagues in a recent Fortune magazine interview.

"This is not a case of some accidental, unknowing infringement... There is an overwhelming number of patents being infringed," licensing maven Horacio Gutierrez told the magazine. General counsel Brad Smith went further, alleging that 42 patent violations concerned Linux's kernel, the heart of the OS. Its user interface infringes on 65 more, he said. The Open Office suite of programs offers a number of free software that violates 125 other patents, the head litigator also claimed.

Some analysts and critics, among them Linux founder Linus Torvalds, say it's unlikely that the Bill Gates conglomerate will actually sue judging from its unwillingness to reveal the specific patents it claims were violated. Not to mention, Fortune notes, the suits and countersuits seen lurking on the wings, a Pandora's box that could just as well undermine the industry.

If you can't beat them...
Nevertheless, the makers of the Windows OS insist that they have been taking steps to resolve the IP spat. Microsoft said it has started dozens of open source projects for Web developers and established Web services standards, as well as offered licensing deals to open-source distributors. Last year, it announced a patent swap deal with Novell Inc. Dell Inc. joined the collaboration just this month.

"We recognize that in order to solve the problems that our customers have... interoperability is what we have to address," Muglia concluded.

For one open source advocate, patent-holders and to a greater extent a faulty patent systemand not Microsoftwere "the real threats" to the Linux community. "I'm pretty certain that, within a few years, Microsoft themselves will be strong advocates against software patents... because software patents represent landmines in their road map [that] they are going to step on, like it or not, with increasing regularity," Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth said.

- Elizabeth Valdezco
EE Times-Asia




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