Summary: The primary patent extortion vector against Linux is falling apart with help from the creator of Linux
A FINNISH company called Tuxera is doing a lot of damage by making it standard practice to pay Microsoft for Linux, due to dubious claims of file system patents. Here is the latest attack from Tuxera and Microsoft. But another Finnish entity, Linus Torvalds, is meanwhile knocking down the very basis for this extortion, namely some controversial file system patents. As one writer put it:
Open source pin-up Linus Torvalds has managed to stuff up an important Microsoft patent which was being used to force Google Android and Linux handset users to pay up.
According to Wired, the Vole had forced many Android phone makers into paying licensing fees for various Microsoft patents related to operating system design.
It looked like Microsoft was vindicated when ITC Administrative Law Judge Theodore R. Essex found that Motorola had violated four Microsoft patents. But Torvalds helped convince the Administrative Law Judge that the patent was invalid.
Linus Torvalds just can’t help but be a thorn in Microsoft’s side.
First, he created an open source project that completely upset Microsoft’s business model. And now, he has helped shoot down an important Microsoft patent in Redmond’s crusade to wring licensing dollars out of Google Android and other versions of Linux.
Microsoft has coerced many Android phone makers into paying licensing fees for various Microsoft patents related to operating system design, and in some cases, it has actually taken legal action against such companies, including smartphone manufacturer Motorola. In October of 2010, it sued Motorola in federal court, and it filed a complaint with the United States International Trade Commission, or ITC.
Last December, Microsoft scored a victory when the ITC Administrative Law Judge Theodore R. Essex found that Motorola had violated four Microsoft patents. But the ruling could also eliminate an important Microsoft software patent that has been invoked in lawsuits against Barnes & Noble and car navigation device-maker Tom Tom.
According to Linus Torvalds, he was deposed in the case this past fall, and apparently his testimony about a 20-year-old technical discussion — along with a discussion group posting made by an Amiga fan, known only as Natuerlich! — helped convince the Administrative Law Judge that the patent was invalid.
This is very important news.
One debate which relates to this is whether software patents should be permitted in standards. The Business Software Alliance (BSA), a Microsoft front group, lobbies in favour and Glyn Moody takes note:
This is a perfect example of why this is not just about big companies versus little companies. Samba is not a company, and has no funds, and yet it has created and continues to develop one of the most widely-used pieces of software in the world. According to Mutkoski, it should be perfectly acceptable that this group of public benefactors – for that is what they are – should be denied access to key information held by a company that was found to have abused its monopoly, simply because that group has no funds. And that, in general, is what will happen if open standards are allowed to be FRAND, and not RF.
And to the argument that Samba did, indeed, obtain that key interoperability information, which proves the current system works, and doesn’t need changing, consider this. Samba obtained that information only because, once more, two things happened: a one-time access fee was charged, and a Fairy Godmother appeared to pay it.
But the point is, a belief that companies will always grant one-time fees, and that Fairy Godmothers will always magically turn up in the nick of time to save open source projects that otherwise will be excluded from key sectors, is not a basis for European policy making. The European Commission must plan on the basis of reality, not fantasy. The only rational way of protecting open source projects and allowing them to continue to make their contributions to society is to insist on RF, not FRAND licensing for open standards.
Of course, there is an alternative which Mutkowski may like to consider: that Microsoft commits irrevocably, perpetually and unconditionally to take on the role of Fairy Godmother by covering all FRAND fees that may be demanded from any open source project for implementing open standards.
exFAT is a major sham that should not be permitted as de facto standard because of patents. Now that the patents in question are scrutinised, might there be a massive refund for Microsoft extortion? Unlikely perhaps, but one can hope. █