China Attacks Microsoft’s Patent Plot Against GNU/Linux and Russia Seems to be Following China’s Foray Into GNU/Linux
Summary: Amid tightening relationships and collaborations between China and Russia, two common targets of espionage attacks by the West, more moves are seen which rid themselves of Microsoft
WE HAVE been patiently watching and accumulating reports about China’s hostile treatment of Microsoft, including — quite notably — the ban on Windows, which is a serious security risk that should be avoided not only for security reasons (back doors and much more). China is boldly moving to domestically-developed operating systems, based on GNU and Linux (so that China can properly study the source code). Over the past few days there were many articles about China’s attempt to de-fang Microsoft’s blackmail monster, essentially by making a ‘namedrop’ of all the patents involved. This will prove exceptionally helpful to the FOSS community, for reasons we shall explain later.
In our daily links (posted just an hour ago) we included an important link from Phoronix. It indicates that Russia is now dodging x86, probably ensuring that no system will be able to run Microsoft Windows or even proprietary programs for Microsoft Windows. This is potentially huge and perhaps there will be a lot of media coverage on Monday.
Both China and Russia have solid, defensible reasons for abandoning Microsoft Windows. This operating system has been used for political and economic espionage that requires illegal (hence secret, even at the court level) surveillance. Microsoft is the NSA’s software-centric best friend (in telecommunications the NSA has many more good friends) and in another post (tomorrow) we shall say more about it.
So, what exactly has China just done?
Years ago we wrote about what Microsoft had done in China. It’s a sort of political corruption, boosted in part by Bill Gates’ lobbying.
Well, China seems to have had enough of that nonsense and it won’t tolerate Microsoft’s blackmail, either. As The Mukt put it, the “Chinese government exposes Microsoft’s secret patents used against Android” as “Microsoft is one such company which has been trying to abuse the flawed US patent system to extort money from those companies with use GNU/Linux based systems including Android and Chrome OS.”
Here is a report from an Android-hostile site which uses the term “Android patents” (similar to FOSSPatents, which is an absurd FUD term) rather than “patents used against Android” (as put in other sites).
We wish to remind readers that Huawei, now known as a target of the NSA (the NSA attacked Huawei’s network and infiltrated it), was reportedly (since 2012 or thereabouts) pursued by Microsoft for an Android patent extortion deal — one that Microsoft never got. Given the close relationship between Huawei and the Chinese government (in the West too the government is closely tied with telecommunications companies) one has to wonder if Huawei was the source of this new disclosure. Unlike ZTE, Huawei never surrendered to Microsoft’s extortion and blackmail (most likely violations of the RICO Act in the United States). With evidence out there, might there finally be federal action against Microsoft? It might help China’s Huawei and the other giant, ZTE, so it’s easy to see China’s interests here. But it’s not just about China. Many companies in east Asia, west Europe, and even the United States are also victims of Microsoft’s bullying. Many articles correctly pointed out the similarity here to the Barnes and Noble saga, where Microsoft ended up bribing Barnes and Noble to drop the case and almost drop Android/Linux, as well [1, 2, 3, 4].
Days ago we wrote about Microsoft squeezing their own users for money (especially businesses) and now Microsoft is trying to squeeze also those who leave Microsoft (to GNU/Linux). In reference to Microsoft-friendly circles covering the latest incident, one person quoted this bit: “Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith and licensing chief Horacio Gutierrez sat down with Fortune recently to map out their strategy for getting FOSS users to pay royalties” (because FOSS too is property of Microsoft, apparently).
Well, they prove that the Microsoft method of bullying and insinuation works. But despite that, they didn’t prove that Android infringed on Microsoft’s patents because – as usual – the latter refused to reveal what exactly they were. That’s because their power really lay in their vagueness. While companies were unsure which patents Microsoft was talking about, it was more or less impossible for them to check whether they were affected. That meant they would probably be open to an easy deal with Microsoft – better to pay up than have a patent sword of Damocles hanging over you.
And that, until recently, was pretty much the state of play. Many Android manufacturers decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and signed licensing agreements with Microsoft – all secret, and therefore all maintaining the vagueness and the power to threaten. But something dramatic has just happened: in order for Microsoft to gain approval from the Chinese Ministry of Communications (MOFCOM) for the company’s purchase of Nokia, Microsoft was obliged to provide lists of the patents it claims are infringed upon by Android. That’s presumably because so many smartphones made in China use Android or a variant of it, that the authorities there were concerned Microsoft might be able to threaten its local companies.
Here is some more coverage that says:
A Chinese government website has published lists of the patents that Microsoft claims are necessary to the functioning of Android smartphones, the first time such lists have been made public.
The patents were analysed by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) as part of its review of Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia’s handset business, which China approved in April.
Pogson correctly points out: “Thanks to inquiries in China, a list is now public. This will permit M$’s competitors to organize a cooperative response rather than suffering under “divide and conquer” conditions.”
China is moving away from Windows rather than pay Microsoft to be spied on by espionage champions like the NSA. Will Hill says: “I’m not sure if Ars is recycling really old fud against gnu/linux or if people in China are going to cut all the FAT out of Android to avoid Microsoft bullshit.”
What Barnes and Noble tried to do before selling out might actually resume with China’s strong lead. This may include resistance to Nokia (e.g. opposition to takeover), which Microsoft plans to use as a patent proxy and a source of patent-stacking (through trolls like MOSAID).
Special credit must go to Joe Mullin. The earliest report we found about this latest development came from him and stated: “For more than three years now, Microsoft has held to the line that it has loads of patents that are infringed by Google’s Android operating system. “Licensing is the solution,” wrote the company’s head IP honcho in 2011, explaining Microsoft’s decision to sue Barnes & Noble’s Android-powered Nook reader.
“Microsoft has revealed a few of those patents since as it has unleashed litigation against Android device makers. But for the most part, they’ve remained secret. That’s led to a kind of parlor game where industry observers have speculated about what patents Microsoft might be holding over Android.
“That long guessing game is now over. A list of hundreds of patents that Microsoft believes entitle it to royalties over Android phones, and perhaps smartphones in general, has been published on a Chinese language website.
“The patents Microsoft plans to wield against Android describe a range of technologies. They include lots of technologies developed at Microsoft, as well as patents that Microsoft acquired by participating in the Rockstar Consortium, which spent $4.5 billion on patents that were auctioned off after the Nortel bankruptcy.
“The list of patents was apparently produced as part of a Chinese government antitrust review relating to Microsoft’s purchase of Nokia. Microsoft described the results of that review in an April 8 blog post, writing that the Chinese Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) “concluded after its investigation that Microsoft holds approximately 200 patent families that are necessary to build an Android smartphone.”
FOSS guru Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols correctly points out that “[n]ow that the Chinese government has revealed the patents within Microsoft’s Android patent portfolio, Microsoft may soon be facing challenges from vendors over its Android patent licensing agreements.”
China may have derailed Microsoft’s extortion by removing the NDA barrier (the same trick Microsoft used when dividing OEMs to conquer the industry). Android will definitely benefit from it and so will derivatives of Android, including China’s. Vaughan-Nichols has an explanation worth reading.
We should probably stress that not all derivatives of Android are safe to use. Nokia turns Android into a Microsoft surveillance platform and the CIA’s top partner, Amazon, has reportedly taken surveillance in Fire (Android-based but altered) to new and rather scary levels [1,2]. We don’t know yet if China will do the same, but reports from years ago said that China had put back doors in its own official distribution of GNU/Linux. This was quite likely correct. █
Related/contextual items from the news:
Amazon is a fascinating company, and the Amazon Fire Phone is a fascinating machine for connecting you with stuff to buy. It’s probably also the biggest single invasion of your privacy for commercial purposes ever.
And no one seems to have noticed.