Looks like Microsoft is ramping up for Son of SCO

by James Turner

You know all those nice things I said about the Microsoft Development environment a couple of weeks ago? Well, I still stand by them as a realistic opinion of the quality of the platform for developers. However, today's news brings the major reason you should run away from depending on Microsoft technology like it had a case of Ebola.

The murmurs and worries about Microsoft's ongoing patent gossip campaign, which came to a roiling boil with the Novell deal, have ended. Yep, no more rumors, just the plain reality that Microsoft is going to take their portfolio of laughable patents and start sticking it to the open source community legally, as spelled out in the most recent Fortune.

I'm trying really hard to avoid descending into obscenities here. So where-ever you see the * character, feel free to insert your own vulgarities as you see fit. * Microsoft has proved what a * bunch of * they are, and shown their true colors yet again. All the * about their open source lab and the code they were releasing as open source was in the end, just * propaganda, as many of us had suspected. Faced with omens such as Dell selling Linux on the desktop, they drew their last major card from the FUD deck, and hope to steal the pot.

And this is why you should use Microsoft technologies only as a very last resort. Because they don't play nice with others. Sure, all companies are competitive and will do pretty much anything they can do to make a buck, but Microsoft is taking things to a new level. What you as a customer are being told, in essence, is that if you use any technology but Microsoft's (or those of a company paying blood-money to Microsoft), you are likely to be sued. I don't know about you, but I don't like to do business with people who threaten and extort me.


19 Comments

Simon Hibbs
2007-05-14 00:49:15
It wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't for the fact that so many Microsoft products are based on patentable innovations contributed freely. I'm thinking of Kerberos and LDAP that are the guts of Active Directory. Where would we all be if Tim Berners-Lee had patented key elements of HTTP, or if the TCP/IP stack were proprietary? Microsoft has done very well embracing and extending the innovations of others.


Thank god I'm a Brit and we don't have software patents over here, despite enormous and growing pressure to adopt them. Hopefully this initiative will drive the final nail in the coffin of the software patent initiatives in the EU too.

Rik van Riel
2007-05-14 05:59:54
The last software company that tried to sue their own customers (SCO) recently got a delisting notice from Nasdaq. The reason is simple: if you sue your own customers, people get nervous about being your customer and try to avoid you.


Every large piece of software implements tens of thousands of potentially patentable ideas. Windows is just as certain to infringe on patents as Linux is. I expect Microsoft is smart enough to avoid risking a counter-suit that could result in an injunction on selling Windows or Office. This whole patent scare is probably just a sales tool and will never come near a countroom.

Julian Fondren
2007-05-14 08:44:43
Choice quotes of my own annoyed paragraph-by-paragraph rewrite of an awful money.cnn.com article on this subject:
  1. Microsoft's lawyer hides alleged infringements, lest they cease to be infringing.
  2. Microsoft has hidden even the existence of its assertion that it hides alleged infringements -- for three years, now.
  3. Steve Ballmer considers it an open option, to sue Microsoft's own customers for using software that violates Microsoft patents in ways that Microsoft's lawyer wants to keep in a state of infringement.


Eh, you require JS for 'preview', but not for 'post'.

Us
2007-05-14 09:13:13
Them and us
Tony
2007-05-14 10:11:59
Thank you for your article
RAS
2007-05-14 12:05:43
Just a note on the topic regarding IBMs software patents. It reallly depends in what way IBM decides to fight the MS patents. For example, what if IBMs software patents have a much higher validity then the MS patents? Without knowing all the patents on the table, one can only speculate.
Doug
2007-05-14 12:46:32
For better or worse, I doubt IBM will take MS to court on this or visa versa. IBM and MS already have large cross licensing deals from the BSD, UnixWare, AIX, Dynix, and Lotus lines, as well as other products. Many of the 'infringing' patents will be covered for IBM already. As such, they will not have the legal ground to defend or prosecute. Novell does not have the mass of patents or pre-existing patent agreements IBM has, and foolishly signed their pact.


If this ever does go all the way to a trial (extremely doubtful), then it will be OSDL, EFF, and other such foundations who will be paying the bills directly. The only good thing that I could see coming from it would be the potential creation of a legal entity for protecting open source. We have a long way to go before getting there, and it is a journey that I do not think even MS wants to walk.

Louis
2007-05-14 12:57:54
Until Microsoft list the specific patents being infringed and the infringing GPL code it is all just FUD, Fear Uncertainty, and Doubt. I expect there are many reasons why Microsoft is all talk and no documentation. Microsoft wants to keep their patent portfolio intact. If a specific list of patents were to be provided, the patents could be carefully reviewed and possibly challenged.
Anonymous Coward
2007-05-14 13:55:46
M$ must start what SCO never finished, so as to get a final nail in the coffin
David Ginger
2007-05-14 16:35:39
Just suppose Microsoft did find some method of legally attacking the open source movement . . . what would happen ?


In my opinion an awfull lot of white hats, truly talented coders would take take the gloves off and attack, by fair means or foul.




Roy Schestowitz
2007-05-14 17:05:09
> Steve Ballmer will look as much a fool as Daryl McBride does today.


Does he not /already/?

chemicalscum
2007-05-14 18:01:09
The Open Innovation Network is a company started by IBM, Sony, NEC, Phillips, Red Hat and Novell (sic). These companies have donated a number of key patents to OIN. The purpose of OIN is to freely license these patents on the condition that the licensee does not engage in patent attacks against Linux and free software.


As I understand it a number of key IBM patents which are very threatening to MS have been donated to OIN. This means that they are not covered by the IBM - MS cross licensing agreement. They are therefore around as a threat of retailiation against MS, while MS cannot launch a patent attack back at IBM, because of the cross licensing, until they too transfer some of their own patents to proxies.


Indeed the OIN could send a warning letter to MS along the lines of "We understand that you are infringing upon our patents x, y and z. We consequently invite you to take out licenses on our standard agreement where you required to undertake not to threaten or carry out patent litigation against users and distributors of Linux or any other open source software".


Two can play the protection racket game.

SPM
2007-05-15 02:30:28
>>>There's no way that non-commercial projects will have the resources to check thousands and thousands of bogus patents for possible infringement.<<


I agree this comment, however it applies to commercial projects as well. There is no way any company or developer, commercial or open source, can afford to search for all possible patent infringements. Furthermore it would actually be unwise for companies or developers to go looking for patent infringements as patents could contaminate the "clean room" development environment (at least so it would be claimed in court), and knowing infringement will attract triple damages. The strategy commercial companies follow to not to look.



However, when it comes to fighting patent infringement claims, I believe open source projects will fare much better in relation to patents than closed source software. There are two reasons:


First as soon as open source software is published, any patentable ideas in it become public domain and no longer patentable. In closed source software, patentable ideas other than the user interface are hidden and kept secret, and not in the public domian, which means someone else can patent the idea if it was discovered earlier and kept secret (the first to file gets the patent unless the idea is in the public domain).


Second, the open source community will do a much better job of finding prior art than the closed source developers because of the "thousands of eyeballs" concept looking for prior art. Just look at what happened to SCO when their claims were subjected to the public eye.

Bradley Williams
2007-05-15 04:35:46
And now would be a very good time to start funding our war chest. DONATE! DONATE! Donate money to the Software Freedom Law Center or The Linux Foundation. We as individuals and companies that have a stake in OSS would do good to help fund the fight. Every little bit would help a lot here. One more thing, Now would be a very excellent time to write your Senator/Congressperson/President of the United States to help in this mess, like really abolishing software patents.
matrxlaw@freeshell.org
2007-05-15 07:59:51
What the *whole* OSS movement is missing is that MS is a legal fiction and as such cannot reach parity with a sentinent being (man). The OSS folks have been hornswoggled into playing like fictious entities, forming corporations ala Apache INC, rather than taking their efforts out of commerce, which is regluated by Congress, into the vast realm of the common law where rights of free speech are unalienable (cannot be liened).


(Sorry but this is a uSA Centric post)


Sean
2007-05-15 09:29:53
You're shaming Microsoft because they're acting like thugs? Where have you been for the past twenty years? They've _always_ acted like thugs. DOS was a cheap rip-off of CP/M (theft); they've always strong-armed hardware vendors (racketeering); they're a ** convicted monopoly, for christ's sake. This recent behavior is merely keeping in character for them. If you didn't mind them before, there's no reason to mind them now.
AB
2007-05-15 13:54:26
This may sound absurd, but in a world where hardly a day goes by without hearing about terrorists, this looks to me as if MS are terrorising the whole computing industry and computer users at all levels. As I see it this is terrorism as it upsets a very important element used in everyday economy of every country in the world. Can you imagine what happens if there is a disturbance in the internet because of FUD (computer/patent-related terrorist attack), or in public databases?
Well, I hope that if America wants to fight terrorism it will start at home.
Jazzman
2007-05-15 17:05:13
> And this is why you should use Microsoft technologies
> only as a very last resort.


Are you kidding? Thou shalt not use no Microsoft crap, that's all!

aylinistanbl
2007-05-22 09:42:53
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