The following is worth quoting and posting verbatim, although it is just an interpretation, which is not precisely Mark’s phrasing of the problem at hand.
Microsoft’s patent game is designed to force open source to compete on its terms. Mark made a hugely salient point on this: Microsoft has been a disruptive force in the software industry by building complex software and essentially giving it away for peanuts.
In turn, it is being challenged by open source, which is free. The difference, as Mark said, between $0.00 and $0.01 is huge. And that difference is not flattering to Microsoft, even despite its lower price points than its fellow proprietary competitors.
But if Microsoft can place a patent tax on all open source software or, at least, the open source software most threatening to its business, then it provides an effective way to inhibit open source disruption. (See above: this applies most forcefully when an open source vendor goes 100% open source and, hence, 100% disruptive. “Free” is the best tool to pound Microsoft with, not “mostly free.”) Take “free” away from open source, and you remove some of its allure, and much of the distribution benefits it has.
In other words, Microsoft’s patent tax is not designed to protect its intellectual property, but rather to protect its preferred, comfortable way of doing business. Novell was its dupe in this charade. Hopefully, others won’t follow suit, and Novell will pull out of the agreement. There is no way that this patent agreement is good for anyone; it is only good for protecting 20th Century software business models.
As a reminder, Mark shuttleworth started to a storm in a teacup when he invited Opensuse developers to join his team. He did so by posting to the primary Opensuse mailing list last year.