The Difference Between Microsoft’s Racketeering Against Linux and Oracle’s Racketeering Against Linux
Summary: The General Dynamics Itronix patent deal deciphered; Oracle — unlike Microsoft — takes the outrageous Android complaint to Google, which has good reasons to put up a fight; it also names actual patents
THE LATEST Microsoft extortion deal has just been announced and the coverage about it controlled to an extent. Rather than pay attention to the success of Android/Linux (“500,000 Android device activations per day”), the Microsoft boosters try to associate Android with patent lawsuits, malware, etc. Among the Microsoft tax-tainted Android devices we previously had Samsung, LG, HTC, and thankfully not the Nook, which unlike the Kindle (Amazon, not Android) is being defended by B&N. Notice the pattern though, as those extorted are located where the US pushes disgraceful treaties to force-feed software patents.
Free Android is still available from Sony, Motorola, ASUS, Dell, Acer, Cisco, Archos, Toshiba, Sharp, and many more. Companies to avoid for their payments to Microsoft (for unknown patents, allegedly relating to Linux) are Novell/SUSE/Attachmate, Xandros, Turbolinux LG, Fuji Xerox, Brother, Melco, Samsung, Kyocera Mita, I-O Data, and HTC. Motorola and B&N fought back, so there is an ongoing battle in court and Google should try to help those companies that attend the courtrooms. They are under fire because Microsoft is desperate to make Linux more expensive and also its own cash cow. Microsoft’s boosters play along with this outrageous plot. For example, the now-spineless (maybe for the safety of her job at ZDNet) Mary Jo Foley does nothing to promote justice in her shallow coverage of the news from Microsoft’s PR department:
On June 27, Microsoft announced that General Dynamics Itronix signed a patent agreement with Microsoft for Itronix devices running Android. Microsoft characterized the agreement as providing “broad coverage under Microsoft’s patent portfolio for General Dynamics Itronix devices running the Android platform.”
Some journalists asked me for comments about it. A press release broke the news (Microsoft probably pushed it to them early under embargo) with Microsoft boosters who were possibly briefed so as to cushion the extortion and play with talking points. For those who missed the news, Microsoft merely extorted another company which sells Linux. Microsoft uses software patents. As usual, out of the blue Florian had to jump right at my face (in Twitter), as though he was almost celebrating the extortion. He tends to sympathise with Microsoft’s racketeering [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7].
Here is the PR which the boosters are parroting. General Dynamics Itronix “devices running the Android platform” will be “covered”, says the PR, as if extortion has much to do with “coverage” (of one’s back maybe). The signing of a patent agreement is a case of putting a smile on something very hostile, as we explained before. Microsoft threatens to sue and then makes an escape route conditional upon “protection money” and pretense of the deal being amicable. To Microsoft is is important to say that “the contents of the agreement have not been disclosed” (more uncertainty) and “the parties indicate that Microsoft will receive royalties from General Dynamics Itronix under the agreement.” That’s extortion. Now watch what Microsoft’s lead extortionist says to promote further extortions: “We are pleased to have reached this agreement with General Dynamics Itronix, which is an example of how industry leaders address intellectual property.” Translations: those who do not agree to cough up “protection money” are disrespectful of the law.
This deal demonstrates Microsoft’s continued bullying and persistent attempts to get around Google and tax its Linux-based operating system, usually by intimidating distributors of Android with lawsuit threats. Microsoft knows that for such companies to fight the case in court there would be less incentive than for Google, which currently battles against Oracle to defend Android from software patents. This deal is yet another example of the harms of software patents, which seem to provide a sort of welfare system to former monopolies or monopolies on the decline. People must ask themselves whether the patent system promotes innovation or promotes litigation which merely raises the price of everything we buy and reduces incentives for developers, whose jobs are dropped to give way to patent lawyers.
Glyn Moody wrote about the subject of software patents that fail against Android. That was just hours before the above announcement and it basically said that software patents are clearly failing:
I’ve noted before that we are witnessing a classic patent thicket in the realm of smartphones, with everyone and his or her dog suing everyone else (and their dog.) But without doubt one of the more cynical applications of intellectual monopolies is Oracle suit against Google. This smacked entirely of the lovely Larry Ellison spotting a chance to extra some money without needing to do much other than point his legal department in the right direction.
Even assuming that Google has wilfully infringed on all the patents that Oracle claims – and that has still to be proved – it’s hard to see how Oracle has really lost “opportunities” as a result. If anything, the huge success of Android, based as it is on Java, is likely to increase the demand for Java programmers, and generally make the entire Java ecosystem more valuable – greatly to Oracle’s benefit.
So, irrespective of any royalties that may or may not be due, Oracle has in any case already gained from Google’s action, and will continue to benefit from the rise of Android as the leading smartphone operating system. Moreover, as Android is used in other areas – tablets, set-top boxes, TVs etc. – Oracle will again benefit from the vastly increased size of the Java ecosystem over which it has substantial control.
Of course, I am totally unsurprised to find Oracle doing this. But to be fair to the Larry Ellison and his company, this isn’t just about Oracle, but is also to do with the inherent problems of software patents, which encourage this kind of behaviour (not least by rewarding it handsomely, sometimes.)
Oracle could sue distributors of Android other than Google and then extort them. But Oracle does not play as dirty as Microsoft. Only SCO, given funding from Microsoft, could possibly use such a strategy, although even SCO did not go as far as Microsoft.
To Microsoft, being able to milk other people’s work may be essential for survival because the company has debt (and it didn’t actually pay billions for Skype as it may have journalists believe, for reasons we’ve covered separately). Microsoft’s cash cows are dying and as my co-host Tim put it:
Like a parasite, Microsoft feeds off another, yet can you blame them? Windows Phone 7 isn’t the Iphone killer that Microsoft PR would have you believe and that’s just one “cog” in its product catalogue. Microsoft has battles all across the board, its firing in all directions and all the while its competitors are coming out with products that people want to buy.
To me it’s very telling that Microsoft doesn’t go after Google directly. I wonder why that is? Could it be like the schoolyard bully they pick on those smaller than themselves, knowing full well that their patent claims won’t be tested in court? Could it be that Microsoft knows exactly how much “worth” there is in their claims and knows Google would fight back.
And Microsoft wonders why its name is mud with many in the tech world? To me these actions show Microsoft as a parasite and coward. If you feel you can justify Microsoft’s actions then I’d love to hear from you. If you can’t, then maybe you are as disgusted as me how Microsoft is allowed to carry on like this.
“Nessuno” in USENET writes: “Convinced ‘em, all right. “Nice little family you have there. Be too bad if something happened to your little girl.”
“Of course they make more money from shaking down Linux than they make selling their own crap.”
Here is what a pro-Linux site had to say about the deal:
Last month, a Citi analyst said that Microsoft is receiving $5 per Android phone from HTC, and is aiming to squeeze $7.50 to $12.50 per device from other vendors. According to some observers, the $150 million per year sum from HTC is five times more income than Microsoft receives for its Windows Phone.
While many of the Linux device agreements appear to relate to patents Microsoft claims over the FAT filesystem, as was revealed in Microsoft’s successful lawsuit against TomTom, the Android claims could instead relate to UI techniques. At least this is what was revealed by Microsoft when Barnes & Noble refused to pay protection money to Microsoft over its Android-based Nook e-reader, and was sued by Redmond in March. Microsoft’s official statements in that case suggested that the cited UI techniques may be similar to those covered in the HTC case.
This settlement is good news for Microsoft Florian (he tried to push the abused into submission) and it is also validating the position of other lobbyists for software patents (and their own pockets), such as Steve Lundberg, who is still going at it.
Microsoft’s dream is a world where every device running just about any operating system will be a revenue source for Microsoft, due to software patents. That’s the vision they have — a vision where people write monopolies (patents), not code. Apple too is starting to lean that way now that Linux gives it a run for the money. Apple and Microsoft are part of the same problem and as we explained earlier, they try to impose US law (with USPTO monopolies) in Asian countries that actually make a lot of Linux-based devices. Apple Began pressuring Samsung with a patent lawsuit (they don’t go after Google) and “Apple’s long divorce from Samsung near final,” writes The Register. “The strained relationship between Apple and Samsung has moved a step closer to fracturing completely, with a report in the Chinese-language Commercial Times refreshing rumours that TSMC will become Cupertino’s new best friend.”
“Even if Apple jumped in 2012, its business would only represent about 2 percent of TSMC’s business,” explains the author.
“The rest probably goes to Android,” remarks “Homer” in USENET.
“Well I must say I’m shocked and amazed this happened after Apple shafted Samsung with a bogus looky-feely lawsuit.
“Now it seems the shiny Samsung, er, I mean Apple iPhoney is set to become a considerably less shiny Korean iPhoney … made from only the finest plastic. The good news is it’ll also come with a free case made from dog fur, and a two feet tall antenna so you can actually get a signal.” █