Bonum Certa Men Certa

Fighting the Cost Advantage of GNU/Linux Using Software Patents

Novell's deal with Microsoft has become controversial for a variety of reasons. Only one of them is a path towards deduction from Linux revenue, capitalising on the notion of 'patent tax'. Such payments are not justified for several reasons, including:

  1. The invalidity of software patents in the vast majority of the world
  2. The fact that most software patents would fail in court (Bruce Perens argues that only 5% of these would survive the court's acid test, and only after a great monetary investment)
  3. Inability to specify infringements


Microsoft Novell



”Novell has, in some respect, assisted the opening of that jar of worms. Novell granted Microsoft the precedence it so badly craved.“The list goes further than this. It remains a fact that at the time of Novell's deal with Microsoft (November 2006), patents were not seen as a principal challenge to Linux. Novell has, in some respect, assisted the opening of that jar of worms. Novell granted Microsoft the precedence it so badly craved. On numerous occasions shortly after the deal had been signed, Microsoft's CEO used that deal explicitly as proof "that open source is not free". That was before the middle of May when Microsoft decided to openly 'assert its rights'.

The Economist published a good article a couple of days ago. Other than the fact that it somehow attributes the success of Free software to Linus Torvalds (others like Richard Stallman will be rightly -- or leftly -- put off by this), it does point out the role of cost as an advantage.

Pundits agree: neither Microsoft nor Apple can compete at the new price points being plumbed by companies looking to cut costs. With open-source software maturing fast, Linux, OpenOffice, Firefox, MySQL, Evolution, Pidgin and some 23,000 other Linux applications available for free seem more than ready to fill that gap.


As you can see, it's not only a question of freedom, but also a question of cost. At the moment, amid some financial discomfort, Microsoft's eye is focused on making Linux not free. This goal is made easier to accomplish with the help of Novell, which took money to change everything. Can this ever work and be generalised to affect all GNU/Linux vendors? Maybe.

PC Magazine has just published an article that quotes those whom we have had our eyes on. There is a continuing attempt to impose per-unit royalties on Linux shipments (never mind the notion of redistribution, being one of the essential 4 freedoms), using patents. Will it work? That is already happening at Novell. Fortunately, Andy Updegrove has presence in this article where he rebuts:

The twist with any new Linux lawsuit is that past cases have "mobilized a huge and passionate community," says attorney Andrew Updegrove, an open-source litigation expert. Today, any new open-source project is scrutinized by hundreds of erstwhile developers looking for potential patent infringement. "If a company is going to proceed with its claims of IP infringement, it better have a smoking gun," says Chris Swenson, the director for software industry analysis at NPD Group.


It's important that Linux users and customers join forces and fight attempts to change laws and rewrite rules in order to marginalise GNU/Linux. The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is determined to bring change to patent laws in the United States, so there's still plenty of hope. According to an article from Linux.com, this FSF initiative ought to have begun about a month ago. It has yet to bear fruit.

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