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Ballmer Suggests Linux Distros Will Soon Have to Pay Up 520

Posted by Zonk
from the oh-good-more-smack-talk dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Via Groklaw comes comments from Microsoft's Steve Ballmer at a UK event, in which the company once again threatens Linux distributions that haven't signed up with their program. '"People who use Red Hat, at least with respect to our intellectual property, in a sense have an obligation to compensate us," Ballmer said last week ... Ballmer praised Novell at the UK event for valuing intellectual property, and suggested that open source vendors will be forced to strike similar deals with other patent holders. He predicted that firms like Eolas will soon come after open source vendors or users. Microsoft paid $521m to settle a patent claim by Eolas in August.'"
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Ballmer Suggests Linux Distros Will Soon Have to Pay Up

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  • Pay you for what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FredDC (1048502) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @07:36AM (#20909881)
    I use Linux, in part because I didn't want to give you any money anymore, so could you please explain to me why you think I owe you money?

    Because I generally don't give money to someone, simply because they tell me I should. I know, it's insane, but I need a reason...
  • Yeah, but.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @07:37AM (#20909891) Homepage Journal
    Eolas actually told them what patent they were supposedly infringing.

    Anyway, let it be said *again*. If you pay Microsoft, or anyone, for a license to "unspecified patents" then you are an *idiot* and I hope you get sued by your share holders.

  • Re:Yeah, but.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bert64 (520050) <(bert) (at) (slashdot.firenzee.com)> on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @07:45AM (#20909981) Homepage
    Microsoft are infringing upon my unspecified patents too, you have an obligation to compensate me...

    Mr Ballmer, if your listening, i would like $504,000,000 as-well please, you do have to respect unspecified intellectual property remember.
  • Stage three (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dexter77 (442723) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @07:48AM (#20910019)
    "First they ignore you,
    then they laugh at you,
    then they fight you,
    then you win." - Mahatma Gandhi

    I see we're on stage three now.
  • by Chrisq (894406) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @07:51AM (#20910031)
    Well not software patents in the UK.... they are supposed to be non enforcible.
  • by dpilot (134227) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @08:06AM (#20910191) Homepage Journal
    Amusing thought...

    With patent infringement, there's "accidental infringement" and "willful infringement," with treble damages on the latter, because of evil intent.

    At the moment, the Linux camp is milling around saying, "Patents, what patents? Show us the patents!" and it can be pretty well "documented" with press releases and blogs. Seems to me that it would be pretty darned hard to show any sort of evil intent.

    But there are also laws against frivolous lawsuits, SLAPP, and such. Seems to me that threatening IP action without specifics, without opportunity to mitigate, especially when the threatenee has been asking for those specifics, ought to go a long way to landing the threatener in that "bad lawsuit" camp.
  • Re:Stage three (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Aladrin (926209) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @08:16AM (#20910343)
    We are fighting. Sit down and enjoy the show.

    Seriously, what do you think we're doing? It may appear that we are sitting on our asses typing, but that's HOW you fight this. You can't make a bunch of signs and stand in front of some random government building and get -anything- done about this. You can't blow shit up. You can't even call Microsoft and get anything done. They'll just ignore you. (Yeah, that's back to step 1.)

    You can:
    Show your boss, fellow employees, family and friends that you understand the situation and explain how it is FUD.
    Write in your blog and on Slashod that you understand, etc, etc.
    Set up dedicated websites to showing what FUD this is, or contribute to ones that exist.

    Notice how all of that is 'fighting' without lifting a fist or even a lawyer? We -can- win this one Gandhi-style... In fact, it's probably the only way we can win it.
  • by CodeShark (17400) <ellsworthpc@@@yahoo...com> on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @08:19AM (#20910369) Homepage
    The problem is that most of the PHB's [wikipedia.org] in the world is that they won't see your comment, and those that have Red Hat Linux on the table for consideration may see the innaccurate statements and accept as real and shift their purchasing $$ to another company, say, Novell's Linux or if Ballmer's wet dreams come true --an MS platform.

    What it points out is that for the giant in Redmond, business is business, and the truth doesn't matter. Microsoft also has a nickname (Microsloth) for much of their own IP -- it's been purchased, code pirated (my term for their clone products which have triggered numerous lawsuits most settled out of court against M$ to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars) -- but a deserved sharklike reputation for FUD. [wikipedia.org]

    Note to the pointy haired bosses: Ignore the bald man in the M$ suit from Redmond -- chances are that if his lips are moving, he's being shifty with the truth to try and get your money. Cover your wallet and walk away quickly.

  • Re:What IP? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tgatliff (311583) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @08:24AM (#20910419)
    Its just FUD because M$ is afraid of the EU slipping from its grips... An example of this would be the Vista adoption rate in the EU... IP is an arms race. Yes, Eolas could definitely try something, but if M$ tried it then IBM would smear then against the wall like a bug with their "IP". What I find interesting is that the OSS world does not give enough credit for what IBM does for OSS... It is my opinion that without the help of IBM to Linux, M$ would have done considerable damage...
  • What for ? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Joebert (946227) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @08:25AM (#20910429) Homepage

    He predicted that firms like Eolas will soon come after open source vendors or users.

    Why would they do that ? They went after Microsoft because Microsoft could actually afford to pay.
  • by walt-sjc (145127) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @08:28AM (#20910451)
    Just posing a couple questions here...

    Don't these kinds of threats put MS in legal jeopardy? Couldn't Linux companies sue MS claiming that Balmer's statements are harming their business, especially in light of the fact that MS refuses to identify these patents? I would think that this situation could cause more problems with the EU.

    The DOJ of course is completely hopeless at this point, but other countries can still offer some relief.
  • by arkham6 (24514) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @08:31AM (#20910485)
    This translates to:

    We don't have anything specific yet,but we are busy digging through the source looking for infringing content. As soon as we get something even semi legit we will show you. Until then, we will make idle threats.
  • by JoeCommodore (567479) <larry@portcommodore.com> on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @08:37AM (#20910553) Homepage

    He predicted that firms like Eolas will soon come after open source vendors or users. Microsoft paid $521m to settle a patent claim by Eolas in August.

    Sounds like maybe MS lawyers are whispering in Eolas' ear to goad them into being the next SCO...

    Why sue your competition and waste money on legal fees when you can con others to do it for you.

  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @08:39AM (#20910573) Journal

    No, not because of linux on the desktop, not even of linux on the server. What it is scared of that with 95% of the desktop it still does NOT control the market. Oh it controls consumers but consumers are fickle. Consumers will buy whatever is cool at the moment. iPhone? Not MS software. iPod not MS software. Mobile phones not MS software. Media centers not MS software. Cars not MS software. Biggest selling console not MS software.

    MS has had very little success getting its software onto something else then the PC despite the fact that many would claim that to Joe Public computing IS microsoft. Just how then do you explain that so few choose their phone to have a windows version? Why does the Zune not sell?

    And all the while that pesky opensource remains there, undefeated, unwilling to adopt, making small gains perhaps but never just giving up like it is supposed too.

    No linux on the desktop ain't going to happen anytime soon, but that is not what MS is really afraid off, it doesn't fear that it is going to loose 95% of the desktop market, but that that market itself will stop growing or even shrink.

    Is that likely? Don't matter, what matters is what MS thinks. They been pushing the end of the desktop of ages (and then claiming it will outlive everything) so they worry when they don't see themselves being the software supplier of choice in this new market.

    Take google, is google ran its servers on windows as it should (in MS view) do you really think Ballmer would be throwing any chairs? No, it is the realisation that MS one way or another is NOT making a penny out of google (well a few thousand desktop sales perhaps but who cares about that).

    None of the mobile phone companies have yet properly chosen Windows as the one and only OS and just keep on insisting on experimenting with software that does not make MS any money.

    Nintendo? Do you really think MS was pleased when they included opera as the browser? Do you realize just what this means? Several MILLION people will see for the first time in their live a NEW browser. MS does not like this, it does not survive well when people have a choice, especially when this choice is the default and just works out of the box. That ain't how MS works.

    It gets worse, not just are individual consumers learning there are choices and not choosing MS as their software supplier, companies like IBM, HP, Dell are showing that they are far from the loyal lapdogs MS thought they were. Oh the revolution ain't there yet, it may never happen, but if you are a despot and you hear a voice shouting OFF WITH HIS HEAD and you see your "loyal" guards knod in agreement, it is time to worry.

    If you think a company like IBM would not relish a change to see MS humbled, you do not understand human nature.

    Then their are countries, China is a huge unexplored market, it should buy MS software NOT mess around with linux even if it is just sales tactics. That is not how MS works, it doesn't compete, it dominates. The old example of Munich must be mentioned, for the first time in decades MS was faced with a counter proposal and they reacted instantly by not just lowering the price but by the way of free training and more effectly making MS pay munich to deploy windows. Still no takers. You know you are in trouble when you can't PAY people to use your software.

    No, the revolution won't come in 2007 or 2008. Most likely it will never come, it is already here. When was the last time you came across an IE only website? How many years have you been able to file your taxes from Linux/Mac? (Holland several years now) Java programs are finally getting traction, just look at P2P.

    AMD opens it graphics cards to opensource, a thing many said was impossible, Intel already heavily supports opensource drivers for its hardware. Are there any giant PC makers left that do not sell Linux no matter how obscurely? Lots of hardware makers now mention linux in their support list.

    Oh, it is all small stuff, but it is there and MS is scared

  • by dpilot (134227) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @08:50AM (#20910703) Homepage Journal
    Trademarks? I think not, pretty easily dis/proven.
    Copyright? Also pretty easy, but how can you copy software you can't get the source for? Even when "leaks" have occurred, the OSS folks have been careful not to look at it.
    Patents? They're all that's left.

    I still say that Intellectual Property is a legal fiction, and when I get time need to write a proper refutation to this: http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=318461&cid=20867087 [slashdot.org]
    Not that the legal fiction is all bad. Clearly when it has taken some investment to create art or inventions, the artist/inventor needs remuneration, so that he/she will keep on doing that, instead of waiting tables or other non-artistic/non-inventive means of earning a living. The current problems are in finding the right balance, and in really rewarding the creators rather than the mostly the distributors.
  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @08:50AM (#20910705) Journal

    The UK patent office tends to be pretty good at not allowing software patents. The common work-around is to file for an EU patent in Ireland (which does accept software patents, in spite of their illegality). This is then a valid, but unenforceable, patent in the UK. The purpose of doing this is to allow you to enforce the patent in the UK (and the rest of the EU) if software patents become legal.

    The UK government responded to a petition against software patents with a clear statement that they should not be granted. While this is not technically binding, it would go a long way in court to clarifying the spirit and intent of the law, should it be raised.

  • by nomadic (141991) <nomadicworld@NOSpam.gmail.com> on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @08:51AM (#20910709) Homepage
    That doesn't matter. MS has much more money that Redhat and is able to sue them to oblivion even without proof.

    Red Hat has enough money to protect itself. A good legal team costs a ridiculous amount of money, but at some point the cost will plateau. Throwing more money at them doesn't get you "better" legal representation.
  • by mysticgoat (582871) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @08:53AM (#20910749) Homepage Journal

    I use Linux, in part because I didn't want to give you any money anymore, so could you please explain to me why you think I owe you money?

    This quote from Ballmer [groklaw.net] that is posted on Groklaw under the section "[Update 2]", appears to be the Microsoft explanation:

    Because our battle is not sort of business model to business model. Our battle is product to product, Windows versus Linux, Office versus OpenOffice.

    But he doesn't stop there. He immediately continues by directly contradicting himself, and talking about the differences in the FOSS and Microsoft business models:

    The only other thing I would say that is probably germane is, we spend a lot of money, the rest of the commercial industry spends a lot of money on R & D. We've spent a lot of money licensing patents, when people come to us and say, "Hey, this commercial piece of software violates our patent, our intellectual propery, we'll either get a court judgment or we'll pay a big check. And we are going to -- I think it is important that the Open Source products also have an obligation to participate in the same way in the intellectual property regime.

    In other words, FOSS should be required to use the same wastefully expensive business model that Microsoft uses.

    I don't think he gets FOSS. I am beginning to wonder if his commitment to the traditional corporate culture of 1982 is so great that he truly cannot see that FOSS is based on an entirely different cultural platform. FOSS is a kind of gift economy where those involved are saying "Hey, since it doesn't cost me to share what I'm doing, I'll gladly share it with everyone, and I expect others to give something back to all of us, too." Where traditional capitalist cultures like Ballmer's see product improvement as a way of getting a bigger slice of the pie, FOSS focuses on making the entire pie bigger so everyone gets a larger slice.

    To those who are less culturally advanced, the clear successes of FOSS must seem to be magic. Apache, Blender, Firefox, and the others must all seem to have been created out of empty aether, and to be without any solid foundations. Clark's observation about advanced technology seemingly also applies to business models: if they are significantly advanced, their mechanisms of operation will seem to be magic to the businessmen of twenty-five years ago who haven't bothered to keep up.

  • Re:How? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Salsaman (141471) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @08:56AM (#20910779) Homepage
    Because you can patent an idea. Nothing to do with copying code (that would be copyrights). You can infringe a software patent without copying code, and without even realising it.

    That`s what makes software patents so dangerous.
  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @08:59AM (#20910817) Journal
    Microsoft paid Novell a lump sum of about $300m at the start of the agreement. I'd very much doubt if the royalty turns out to be large enough to make this a net loss of money for Novell.

    That royalty payment says that NOVELL "BELIEVES" that Linux contains MS IP, even though there has been no proof of such a claim.
    No, the royalty payment says that Novell believes that being given a huge heap of money and some free publicity is worth a small fraction of their profits.
  • by Chemicalscum (525689) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @09:02AM (#20910865) Journal
    It seems to me that these statements by Ballmer are a clear Lanham Act violation under Section 43(a)(1)(B) which can be used when false or misleading statements are alleged to have hurt a business.

    Except since Ballmer was speaking in London it is not clear if US law applies here - maybe thats why he made his statement there. Turn up the FUD escape the legal consequences.

  • by mrjb (547783) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @09:16AM (#20911039)
    Let me get this straight. What Balmer is saying is "People who use [Linux] [...] have an obligation to compensate [Microsoft]". Yes, I deliberately left out the intellectual property bits to show how ridiculous it sounds. It's like saying people who eat at Burger King have an obligation to compensate McDonalds. No, they don't. Just because you think you invented the One and Only Burger and some people made a choice for the competition, that doesn't mean that those people owe you ANYTHING.
  • Sue who? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wytcld (179112) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @09:37AM (#20911315) Homepage
    Consider MS's frustration. It would like to sue someone to set an example and get new revenue sources in line. But who? Red Hat would be an obvious deep pocket. But where is the infringement located in the distro? Unless it's something so fundamental that there's no way to code around it, it will be coded around soon after MS reveals it. If it's a key functionality for some businesses (say, Samba) that MS can get Red Hat to withdraw from the distro, that package will simply move offshore. If MS starts suing large corporate customers for something like Samba that interoperates with MS tech, it will be suing its own customers - so do they solve this by dropping their key servers, or by finally moving their desktops and the Exchange-y stuff they run on Windows over to *nix to avoid the problem?

    And if it is something so fundamental to the core of Linux it can't be coded around, the odds are long that MS's patent will be found invalid, since virtually all that stuff was invented for *nix before MS ever existed.

    So if MS sues, in most any scenario *nix (both Linux and most probably Sun) wins. This is such a sure thing we should consider doing all we can to provoke MS to sue - except that we'd hate having some of our best minds preoccupied for a few years with the court battles.
  • Re:Stage three (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wrook (134116) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @09:47AM (#20911455) Homepage
    By "then they fight you and then you win" Gandhi was referring to masses of people getting the shit kicked out of them for going down to the beach to make salt. Or people being gunned down in the hundreds for peacefully sitting around in a temple. Whatever you think of the applicability of his methods in other areas he successfully understood the political forces at work and realized that getting the snot kicked out of him in front of the media would win the fight.

    To sum up he said "they fight you", not "you fight them". He allowed people to be attacked in order to win the war. In his own words, the people of India were soldiers and sometimes soldiers die. Peacefully walking into to gunfire and dieing was part of the strategy.

    Personally, I think this is the best way to go about it in the Free software world too. If Microsoft attacks you, don't attack back. Just publicize it. If Microsoft attacks forcefully enough to do anything significant, the bloodshed will be obvious. In any case, keep walking to the beach to make salt.

    Keep writing and using free software. Keep helping others. Don't fight.
  • by bzipitidoo (647217) <bzipitidoo@yahoo.com> on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @10:25AM (#20912065) Journal

    The thing I find most troubling about all this is the general climate that allows such fud to have an effect. Ideally, Ballmer shouldn't even think of saying such things because they should sound incredibly stupid and pointless, and if he did have a brain lapse and said it anyway, he'd be laughed at, by everyone. And everyone could be sure that if he did try to bring some case to court, it'd be thrown out.

    As it is, no one can be too certain how the courts will see an intellectual property issue. People can't be assured that even if the patent bullies and trolls lose any such hypothetical case, the targets won't get hurt anyway because defending against such a case costs money and distracts a business from their business. Recovering damages inflicted by frivolous lawsuits is far harder and less certain than winning frivolous lawsuits. Even if the lawsuit is never even brought (because it is certain to lose), it can still have an effect. The ones who shouldn't have to worry about any of this are the customers, yet the system is so crazy that even customers of businesses that might be in violation of patents (pretty much all businesses) have to worry. Until such time as the legal system is clarified and the economic system tweaked so there is no profit to be had by such behavior, people will be threatened with this stuff, and will have to evaluate the dangers.

    Until there's good supervision of this playground, bullies will run amok. Ballmer might be smart, but he sure isn't wise, playing this fool high stakes "king of the hill" game. Instead of trying to make the playground more civilized, he's trying to be the biggest bully.

  • by OrangeCowHide (810076) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @10:50AM (#20912459)

    You know, sometimes the courts don't work. Sometimes they favor the entity with larger funds. For example, a woman who clearly never even possessed the software Kazaa was sued by Capitol records recently and lost a $222,000 judgment even though the only evidence they had was a screenshot of files she was serving through Kazaa. Some people would rather be a little poorer and covered rather than be right and bankrupt.

    Microsoft does have a large patent portfolio. If you want to know which patents they will claim Linux infringes on, find a changelog from RedHat. For every new thing that shows up, add 2 - 3 months to the date, and look for Microsoft patents filed then. Yes, that screams prior art, but do you really think it would be hard for Microsoft to stuff a jury with people who don't understand prior art?

    I mean, you did know that A method for allowing a software vendor to notify a user of a software update is disclosed [google.com] is a Microsoft patent filed in 1998?

    Microsoft didn't just make the SOAP specification, they filed a patent [google.com] on it. Any SOAP using system (like Perl, PHP, Python, etc) would infringe on this patent.

    I sure hope network transactions aren't optimized by offloading the work to the NIC [google.com] in Linux or else they would run afoul of a MS patent.

    Even Sun RPC [google.com] isn't immune (and filed only 10 years late, according to RFC 1057 [rfc-editor.org]).

    Microsoft's patents are wrong, and immoral, and frequently violating prior art, but they do exist. So it does make sense from a business perspective for Novell sign an agreement with Microsoft to avoid a lawsuit which they may not win in spite of the law.

    That said, I stopped using SuSE myself. I tend toward Fedora and Ubuntu these days.

  • by Paradigm_Complex (968558) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @12:33PM (#20914131)

    (Interesting aside: A US aircraft is considered US territory while on the ground anywhere in the world. So does that mean a car with an NL sticker on it is considered Dutch territory while it is on the road anywhere in the world?)
    Does the Dutch government own every car with an NL sticker on it? I can tell you this much: Any Dutch embassy, in any country, is considered Dutch territory.
  • by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @02:29PM (#20916055) Homepage

    However Linus has stated publicaly and in emails to developers that they should not seek out patent filings due to tripple damages of willful infringement. THis can be used to show Linus had willful intent to steal the ideas of Microsoft and of course their lawyers will say the fact that he said this after SCO sued for patent infringement showed foreseeable harm since they were all aware they could be sued again.

    It can also be used to show that Linus made it a point of implementing the ideas that a skilled practitioner of the art could have reasonably come up with on his own.

    See, if you do something which is fairly obvious, and you really had no idea someone had patented something that most anyone else could have thought of, then, you're not "willfully" infringing.

    It's a stance which is actually designed to give you more legal protection. If I never look to see what is patented, I won't know until some wanker of a lawyer comes along and says I violated a patent. At which point, you might have a chance to have the patent overturned on grounds of 'obvious'.

    If you knew you were violating a patent, then you've willfully violated, which gets your triple damages.

    When I write code at work, I don't sit around wondering if someone patented it. That's so NMPF it's not funny. If I wrote it from scratch or based on publicly available documentation, I assume I'm fairly safe from being accused of infringing a patent.

    Of course, the very idea of stealing the ideas of Microsoft is laughable. I don't think I'm aware of a single idea in computing that Microsoft invented in house. Everything has been taking what other people are doing, change it a little, and then claim to have innovated. Microsoft has bought, borrowed, or stolen every idea and technology they have ever produced. They've certainly only ever really put out stuff that is an evolution of prior art.

    Cheers
  • by eneville (745111) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @02:34PM (#20916115) Homepage

    Maybe Ballmer was speaking in generalities, and wasn't speaking of any specific IP.

    This may well be a foreboding statement, hinting to Microsoft's infamous strategy to embrace, extend, and extinguish. Getting their proverbial foot in the door, implanting MS IP in some distro here or there as a gesture of "good will" or some sort of perverted philanthropy, as a sort of time bomb detonating at the point at which MS decides to attempt to extinguish Linux-based OSes as competition.

    Mod me as FUD if you wish... but I'm not claiming these statements are anything more than pure speculation.
    Thankfully conciousness distros like Debian will not allow work into the base unless it's fully GNU/Apache, whatever, licensed for free use. By doing this they ensure that this timebomb can never go off. Take a look at the cdrecord package which is now replaced with wodim. Unless MS were to release something (and for the life of me the only thing I can think that *might* get in is some document converter for Word), then it would have to be correctly licensed, in which case, we're not going to give a hoot.
  • Re:Stage three (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Pecisk (688001) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @02:53PM (#20916387)
    In fact, SCO case looks like exact page from Gandhi book. Yes, IBM took legal challenge, but they actually sat it out, peacefully calling claims false, providing evidence SCO required, answering sometimes to even ridiculously stupid requests, letting SCO slowly become a laughing stock in the eyes of geeks, then business and in the end - their former suporters. I think calmness of IBM was _major_ force which helped them and rest of community. And of course PJ too. I don't always agree with her, but hers analysing attitude to this actually helped community a lot - we are more insightful about law, how it works, how it should work, we have seen what means to sit out difficult case until actual end, when you win.

    My two euro cents as usual.
  • by BillyBlaze (746775) <tomfelker@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @03:04PM (#20916551)
    I think Global Thermonuclear Patent War would be a good thing. We only tolerate patents because the actual harm the cause is so much less than the harm they could cause in such a situation. And we need something to spark a revolution. (Non-physical of course.)
  • by Skrapion (955066) <skorpion@f[ ]fang.com ['ire' in gap]> on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @03:45PM (#20917189) Homepage
    He was probably talking about patents. That's been in the news lately [slashdot.org].

    The problem is that nobody knows what these 235 patents cover. They could be invalid. They could be simple enough to easily find a workaround for. Or they could be something like the TrueType hinting patent, which took quite a while for the FreeType project to find an adequate alternative for. For all we know, they have patents that make it impossible to correctly render a Word doc without infringing on their patent.

    But Microsoft won't say what the patents actually are. They're probably hoping to try to sue for all the patents they can in one fell swoop, in hopes that nobody will be able to come up with a solution in time. Because of this, Debian is the most likely to be hurt, because once Microsoft releases the details, Debian can't just let their non-free software slide until a proper alternative can be found; they'll have to pull the software. The problem isn't that Linux projects are purposefully infringing on Microsoft IP; it's that they don't even know what the Microsoft IP is.

    Of course, the Open Innovation Network (IBM, NEC, Novell, Philips, Red Hat and Sony) has a substantial patent portfolio that they use to protect open source projects, and Microsoft is sure to have infringed on some of them, so there's a good possibility that Microsoft will never use these patents for anything but FUD campaigns.

    But it does suggest an interesting option for patent reform. Perhaps patents should have to be actively protected, like trademarks, and if a company lets another company use their patent for too long uncontested it becomes public domain.
  • by Courageous (228506) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @04:01PM (#20917427)
    The issue is that if you force Microsoft to show their patents, they will. And they will have some, believe me on this. Some may be cheesy, but I have no doubt that they have extensive patent holdings, and some of them will hold up in court, even if you do disagree with the idea of software/process patents (as I do).

    So suing is not really the "we, the community's" best interest. Our best interest is to laugh at Microsoft and ignore their FUD. We cannot be said to be culpable by inaction in this regard, because it is THEIR inaction in failing to disclose their patents that is the problem here. In fact, the longer they fail to disclose, while being aware of the violations, the better the case the community has against them.

    C//
  • by h4rm0ny (722443) on Tuesday October 09, 2007 @04:22PM (#20917661) Journal

    Because of this, Debian is the most likely to be hurt, because once Microsoft releases the details, Debian can't just let their non-free software slide until a proper alternative can be found; they'll have to pull the software.


    And this comment is exactly what Microsoft wish to achieve by making cryptic threats about their patents. I'm not blaming you (the poster) for posting this. I'm just observing that this is a classic example of FUD in action. "Debian is most likely to be hurt so play safe with someone who's signed the pact with Microsoft."

    I don't know that a distribution that hasn't signed a deal with Microsoft isn't more at risk. Very possibly the patents are trivial or unsupportable else Microsoft might well have acted sooner before Linux became such a massive threat to them. Or maybe Microsoft hoped to let Linux become something profitable and then try to take it over through their proxy Novell. So I don't know if being cautious and siding with a non-pact signing distribution will gain you any benefit or not, but I do know that caution is not without price. Accepting the Microsoft FUD has a demonstrable negative effect on the free software community and Linux specifically. When forced to choose between a possible negative (which at worst is changing distributions) and a proven negative, I am inclined to the former. Especially when I perceive the likelihood of Microsoft successfully hamstringing Debian to be low in the first place and even more especially when I feel that an organisation is trying to make me act a certain way through threats.

    I also know that Europe has preserved its own, more rational, patent law despite immense pressure from US corporations (who would benefit vastly more than European ones from such a shift). The international nature of Linux would be a headache for Microsoft in a number of ways.

    If the patents are trivial (and if they exist), then Microsoft's only real use of them is to spread FUD as you have illustrated. Ultimately that will evaporate and Microsoft will look the worse for having tried it. If (and it's a very big 'if' let's keep in mind) there are some serious patents in there, then I would have thought there is reasonable grounds for counter-suing Microsoft for deliberately concealing such information whilst allowing a business built on infringement to develop for the purpose of cashing in later on.

    If (if, if, if) Microsoft try to sue Linux distributions for patent infringement in the US, I expect the legal process to take some time. And I do know that engineers always move faster than lawyers. If there's a way round the patents (if they exist, and if they're non-trivial), then we'll be finished implementing it by the time the injunction comes down.

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