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Microsoft Catches Flak for Selling ‘Linux-Related’ Patents

Microsoft said that the 22 patents in question weren't core to its business or essential to its IP portfolio

In July it sold some patents to Allied Security Trust (AST), a cost-sharing non-profit operation that buys up patents to protect its members, companies like HP, Google, Cisco and Verizon, against pricey patent litigation, particularly by so-called patent trolls.

AST operates under what it calls a "catch and release" policy. Once its members get non-exclusive licenses to the IP, it puts the patents back on the market. It does not assert patents.

Well, AST "released" the old Microsoft patents and the Open Invention Network (OIN), the Linux-only version of AST whose sometimes overlapping members include IBM, Google, Novell, Red Hat and Philips, swooped in and bought them for an undisclosed sum, claiming that the 22 patents were Linux-related and that it was saving Linux from the trolls and their demand for royalties, a motivation it ascribed to AST buying them in the first place.

It said that the portfolio derived originally from SGI - although we heard elsewhere that there were others in the mix - which maybe makes them OpenGL-related. OIN does not identify the patents or explain how they bear on Linux.

As a matter of fact, in its public statement of self-congratulations OIN says, "The prospect of these patents being placed in the hands of non-practicing entities [a k a trolls] was a threat that has been averted with these purchases, irrespective of patent quality and whether or not the patents truly read on Linux."

So maybe they're valid and enforceable and maybe they implicate Linux or maybe they don't, but trolls don't need solid patents to create a rumpus- or so the argument goes.

Right away it seems odd, farfetched in fact, that Microsoft would sell off any IP significant to its standing "beware the boogeyman" claim that Linux infringes more than 200 of its patents.

Heck, a few months ago it sued TomTom, the Dutch-based GPS house, on claims that implicated the Linux kernel. It was the first time Microsoft ever sued anybody for patent infringement and TomTom quickly settled and agreed to pay.

When asked, Microsoft said that the 22 patents in question weren't core to its business or essential to its IP portfolio. Does the expression "de minimis" or the word depreciated resonate?

Enter the Linux Foundation. It claims that Microsoft figured that a patent troll would get the patents after AST released them and was counting on this troll making life a living hell for the Linux community while Microsoft kept its hands clean.

It's a pretty big stretch and seems to prove that reality distortion fields can exist even when Steve Jobs is nowhere to be found.

According to the Linux Foundation, which privately says it can't identify the patents because it doesn't know, publicly they are "some of the very patents that seem to have been at the heart of recent Microsoft FUD campaigns against Linux."

And because of the troll scenario it imagines, the Linux Foundation accuses Microsoft of continuing "to act antagonistically to its customers" and urges the Fortune 500 companies that deploy both Windows and Linux "to tell Microsoft that they do not want Microsoft's patent tricks to interfere with their production infrastructure. It's time for Microsoft to stop secretly attacking Linux while publicly claiming to want interoperability. Let's hope that Microsoft decided going forward to actually try to win in the marketplace, rather than continuing top distract and annoy us with their tricky patent schemes."

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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