255 ways Microsoft is confused todayMicrosoft’s allegations that the open source movement has infringed upon no less than 255 patents, as reported in Fortune, can unsettle the most die hard among open source supporters.
Microsoft says that the Linux kernel violates 42 Microsoft patents, followed by Linux GUIs which violate 65 patents, Open Office suite violates 45 patents, E-mail programs violate 5, the remaining 68 violations being done by other popular FOSS programs, for a grand total of 255 violations.
Sure it reads like a list of U.N. resolution violations by the ‘Axis of Good’.
However, dear FOSS supporters, there is actually nothing to worry about.
Weak legal standing
1. Let’s start with Patents. Open source supporters say that software essentially being a mathematical algorithm, cannot be patented.
2. In April this year, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously opined that far too many patents have been issued in the last 20 years or so.
The Patent office is okaying patents like evacuation coupons.
3. The Free Open Source Software movement has big patrons in form of the Open Invention Network, formed in 2005 by 6 major companies including IBM, Sony, Philips, Novell, and Red Hat to acquire a wide set of patents that companies like Microsoft might said were copied from them.
So if Microsoft ever sues a Linux distributor for patent infringement, the OIN might countersue Microsoft in retaliation, claiming that Windows infringes upon their patent.
This opens up a scary world of suing and countersuing until one day the courts rule that patent system is harmful to one and all, dead.
4. Whom will you sue?
There are far too many open source developers, hackers, distributors to pin point.
Hell, if it comes to that, even you and I can hack Linux, creating yet other new versions.
It is like, how many remixes can you make?
In this scenario, can Microsoft be like RIAA and start suing everyone?
What a fall for a once mighty corporation.
5. The Novell Deal and Microsoft's hypocricy
The sloth giant is caught confused in its own dead weight.
Microsoft knows it cannot be aggressive about suing big companies using Open source software, some of whom are big buyers of Microsoft as well.
Then to matters worse for itself, in 2006, Micrsoft made a deal with a prominent Linux distributor, Novell, under which both agreed not to sue each other’s customers for patent infringements (see above), Novell would give Microsoft royalty and Microsoft would distribute Linux coupons from Novell that enabled customers to trade in for Novell Linux subscriptions.
In plain terms, this means Microsoft is a Linux distributor.
6. Don’t mess with the GPL license
Anyone who distributes free software covered by copyrights owned by the Free Software Foundation (the norm since the Linux movement started in 1991) has to abide by the GNU General Public License (GPL), written by Free Software evangelist Richard Stallman. As of now, most important portions of the Linux OS come under GPL.
Like Microsoft Lawyers, lawyers for FSF strictly enforce the rules as strictly, if not more and have often forced open source developers to open their source code if they have used free software into proprietary products.
What will go against Microsoft in the Novell deal is that GPL makes it illegal to do patent royalty deals with distributors of Linux, which is the core of the Microsoft deal with Novell (see above).
It is ironic that a ‘virtual’ Linux distributor is planning to sue other distributors and users!
It also doesn’t bode well for Microsoft infamous PR. Where are those dollars going?
It might also mean that the SCO lawsuits are not going anywhere.
Microsoft may have helped the Open Source Movement:
If the issue comes out in the open, the tireless open source programmers would soon get their hands on all the alleged infringements and hack around them.
So, will Microsoft win against the ‘Axis of Good’?
I think not.