In a case which is in no way directly related to software, actually it is about automobile gas pedals, Microsoft and other tech giants are weighing in in a patent dispute case that is likely to set a tremendous precedent.
On one hand, technology companies are sick of getting sued, often by patent squatters that don’t really make much of anything but go around patenting the schemas for products that other companies are (often independently) working on and then clean up in patent lawsuits. Tech companies would like to see some sort of flexibility built into the patent system so that it’s not so easy to patent just anything and then sue later on when somebody who’s actually creating something happens to come up with that same thing or something similar to it. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Well, on the other — also very powerful — hand, drug and chemical companies want to protect their products from generic competition and counterfeiters, and patents offer the strongest form of protection. So there’s a battle shaping up here that could profoundly affect some of the world’s most powerful corporations. In other words, it’s worth paying attention to this.
It should be noted that all throughout the Novell-Microsoft deal, both companies have repeatedly asserted that no in-depth review of patent portfolios took place, because each knows that there are “legitimate questions about patent quality” that would need to be addressed. Instead, each company opted to purchase a pig in a poke, so to speak, knowing it is easier to negotiate a preemptive peace rather than risk war and learn you haven’t any munitions.
There, of course, is a small problem with this industry methodology: small, upstart companies have an impossible barrier to entry. As the tech giants continue to obtain and leverage dubious software patents, using cross-licensing deals to create a cartel that will ensure that these same companies continue to live on and derive revenue long after they have ceased to innovate.
David Kaefer of Microsoft indicated himself that the prospects of conducting a patent review for any given piece of software is “prohibitive”, requiring you to review “thousands of patents”. If Microsoft hasn’t the legal resources to conduct such a review, how could a startup company in their garage be expected to?
Asked whether Microsoft would consider revealing what parts of Linux allegedly violated the company’s intellectual property so that open-source developers could throw out the offending code, Kaefer demurred, saying it would not be “very productive.”
“Patents are hard to understand. You have to have a certain level of expertise to understand the scope. And there are legitimate questions about patent quality,” he said. “The reality is that you’d have to look at thousands of patents and thousands of products. To focus on every single one would be prohibitive.”
It is a sad statement on the state of the industry that more and more companies are making money from patents and intellectual property not by making products with them but by threatening other vendors who may be infringing those patents.
Perhaps, after losing yet anotherPatent infringement case themselves, threatening the distribution of their cash-cow Office in Korea, Microsoft is starting to see the state of the industry as well.
This fresh press release from Novell certainly changes the tune. No longer does Novell boast bringing SUSE Linux to schools and governments. For a change, Novell considers Windows as part of its infrastructure.
Whether it’s surprising or not probably depends on whether you have been a skeptic or a supporter or the deal. As Shane pointed out last night, Ron Hovsepian perceives that as the company’s new strategy and direction. On the face of it, Novell intends to virtualize Linux within Windows.
Posted in OpenSUSE at 4:26 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz
Dana Gardner shrewdly points out that Novell has developed a culture of secrecy, which in its own right justifies some of the criticism that’s directed at the so-called Open Source company.
Based on the Microsoft-Novell deal and its fallout, the entire industry is getting a close look at how open technology communities and companies work, according to Gardner. “The notion that a vendor can have a secret or fuzzy pact with another vendor doesn’t work when the community is instant and global and seamless,” he said. “You need to be pretty open and thoughtful about your announcements.” The same factors served to minimize recent industry concerns about Microsoft’s vague claims of intellectual property rights to Linux, which were the cause of some disharmony between the two software giants last week. “If you’re going to work in a community, you need to recognize you’re exposed,” Gardner said. “Sleight of hand doesn’t work, and ambiguity will be exposed and discussed.”
I also worry as much as anyone about Novell cozying up to Microsoft. Not many software companies lay down with that particular lion and walk away with their lambskin coats intact. Perhaps Novell will, but in a match between predator and prey I tend to bet on the predator. Call me silly or call me a realist; your name-calling will not hurt me — especially if I stay far, far away from Novell in case I become dependent on its products and they all start sporting a Microsoft logo (and carrying Microsoft-style usage restrictions) one day. Even Ubuntu, much though I love it in everyday use, seems to have problems with Free Software Purity. So I guess I need to turn to Debian… Microsoft is apparently getting ready to do something with Linux. We don’t know what, but if the company’s past history is any guide it won’t be pleasant. Novell either is or isn’t involved, and may or may not survive its attempt to cuddle up with The Beast in its den, so I must avoid it, too.
As Shane has just pointed out, to Novell, Hula is no more. Allow me to elaborate. The Hula project, one of the most promising among Novell’s Open Source initiatives, has been axed for a reason. This probably didn’t require much persuasion from Microsoft, either.
The quick synopsis is, Novell no longer has anyone working full-time on Hula. As a team we have spent some time looking at where the Hula project is and the opportunities in the market and in the end we had to conclude that we couldn’t justify investing at the same level in Hula going forward. So those of us who have been developing Hula full-time will be moving on to other roles and to other parts of the company.
This particular death knell reminds me of Microsoft’s recent deal with A9. It brought down services from A9 that competed with Microsoft directly or indirectly. This is not based solely on word of mouth. Reporters have cited competition with Microsoft services as the reason why A9 services had to be halted and their operation/maintenance retracted entirely. That happened just a couple of months ago. The aggressive new strategy appears to involved acquisition of/partnership with competitors, which in turn takes down competing projects (services and products).
Novell has turned its back on commitments to Open Source projects. I advice the OpenOffice team to find a new home because the only projects that I see surviving or flourishing is Mono (.Net). It does not affect the cash cows and it gives Microsoft control over developers in both worlds.