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Red Hat: Microsoft Marketed Its Patents for Trolls to Attack Free Software

Breaking in



Summary: Red Hat reveals details about Microsoft's marketing of anti-FOSS patents; other patent news summarised

RED Hat has already asked Microsoft to stop the patent racketeering, but Microsoft carries on with the usual FUD-based aggression while smiling and sending out PR drones like Sam Ramji [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12] and Robert Duffner. "Smiling" as in, "We need to smile at Novell while we pull the trigger," to quote Microsoft's Platform Group Vice President, Jim Allchin.



“...Microsoft may be passing some patents for them to attack Linux without it appearing too suspicious and without Microsoft seeming like an involved party.”Microsoft has some big patent trolls at its disposal and as we argued yesterday, Microsoft may be passing some patents for them to attack Linux without it appearing too suspicious and without Microsoft seeming like an involved party. It was the same with SCO. Larry Goldfarb, a key investor in SCO, said that "Microsoft wished to promote SCO and its pending lawsuit against IBM and the Linux operating system. But Microsoft did not want to be seen as attacking IBM or Linux." He also said (under oath even) that Microsoft's "Mr. Emerson and I discussed a variety of investment structures wherein Microsoft would 'backstop,' or guarantee in some way, BayStar's investment.... Microsoft assured me that it would in some way guarantee BayStar's investment in SCO."

Red Hat has just published some interesting details that are packed together right here:

Red Hat accuses Microsoft of patent FUD



[...]

Red Hat blogged that the patents acquired by OIN were being marketed by Microsoft to patent trolls.
"It also used marketing materials that highlighted offensive uses of the patents against open source software, including a number of the most popular open source packages," Red Hat blogged. "This looked to us like a classic FUD effort. To unleash FUD, you assemble a lot of patents of uncertain value, annotate them with a roadmap for the companies and products to be targeted with the patents, put the lot in the hands of trolls schooled in patent aggression, and then stand back and wait for the FUD to spread with its chilling effect."


Darryl Taft, who is sometimes sympathetic towards Microsoft, wrote about OIN's reaction. In general, there is so much interest in this from the Microsoft crowd. For example, here is Microsoft's de facto PR person (Fried) trying to set the tone and Mary Jo Foley doing likewise. Her colleague, the pro-Microsoft Gavin Clarke, opens up with the deceiving line which says: "Microsoft has placed a clutch of Silicon Graphics patents in the hands of those trying to defend Linux and open-source against trolls."

It sure makes it sound like Microsoft does something nice, doesn't it?

In the mailing lists that oppose software patents (and support their abolition), one person opined that "it just means that the patents are not worth much more than this PR stunt is for OIN..."

As a reminder from the news:

The Open Invention Network includes IBM, Cisco and HP. The group's web site states that its mission is to work for a "positive, fertile ecosystem for Linux, which in turn drives innovation and choice in the global marketplace".


Another person, whom we shall quote anonymously, argues:

Companies like IBM, RedHat, Canonical, etc. are acquiring as many patents as they can, either directly or with initiatives like OIN. From e.g. Nokia we know that what is at the beginning a defensive strategy can become an aggressive one at any time.

Maybe sooner than later the OIN members start asking 'politely' to provide free software throw them, but not independently. That would be the beginning of the end of the free software movement, and maybe what MS is looking for.

What will be better against FLOSS than to convince to as many FLOSS-players as possible that software patents are very profitable?

Will governments use Debian instead of RedHat if software patents are an issue?


Here is the original report in full and some more coverage of interest:

Microsoft Corp ( MSFT - news - people ) has suggested in recent years that companies using the Linux computer-operating system might be violating Microsoft patents. Now, in an effort to avert any legal threat that might discourage the adoption of Linux, a group of Microsoft rivals is about to acquire a set of patents formerly owned by the software giant.


More here:

# Pro-Linux group closes in on MSFT patents. The Open Invention Network, a group which supports open-source software and includes such giants as IBM (IBM) and Sony (SNE), is nearing an agreement to acquire 22 of Microsoft's (MSFT) patents in an effort to avoid any legal threats that could discourage the adoption of Linux. Microsoft has suggested in the past that the Linux operating system may violate some of its patents. The patents are currently held by Allied Security Trust, which bought the patents from Microsoft earlier this year.


Other coverage did not add much to what was already known and the secrecy surrounding the OIN helps not at all.

Why did open source group buy Microsoft patents?



[...]

As well, since Microsoft licenses some of its patents to Novell (under their patent covenant agreement), those are the patents that I see as being key. It is unlikely that Microsoft has sold any of those core patents as it would invalidate the need for part of the Novell deal.

OIN, whose members include IBM, Red Hat and other key Linux vendors is all about making royalty-free patents available to open source developers.

Whenever the OIN decides to open up and actually be OPEN and talk to more media than just the WSJ, I'm sure the full story will come out (and I'll update appropriately). Either way, this is a win for open source as it removes the risk from 22 patents to developers and users.


The risk will be properly removed (and perhaps permanently mitigated) when mathematics cannot be owned by people and companies. OIN is still legitimising software patents by taking this approach which it always takes. Maybe it's better than nothing, but the companies behind OIN have sufficient influence to challenge the very legality of such patents; unlike the FFII, they typically choose not to do this.

The truth is that some of these companies exploit software patents and use them to their own advantage because they can afford it. As the i4i case [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11] neatly shows, big companies like Microsoft can also ignore software patents whenever it suits them. They are in control of this self-serving system. Here is the latest from i4i: "Plaintiff in Word case says that Microsoft destroyed its business"

It adds later that i4i now operates "almost entirely in the specialized niche market of the pharmaceutical industry," but notes that some of those companies have been unwilling to purchase its product because they can get the functionality within the Microsoft word-processing program.


Oracle's CEO Larry Ellison has already said that Microsoft's business strategy is to "copy the product that others innovate, put them into Windows so they can't be unplugged, and then give it away for free."

In other patent news, Glyn Moody emphasises that "intellectual monopolies [are] not [the] same as innovation," linking to this article from EurActiv. At EurActiv, they often cite the wrong people when it comes to SMBs; for instance, Jonathan Zuck (Association for Competitive Technology) fakes being a speaker for their (SMBs') interests; he is a Microsoft lobbyist.

Intel is another company that's known for its aggression with patents, but even Intel's Andy Grove can be seen once again criticising the patent system/practices. Mike Masnick points it out as follows:

Earlier this year, we wrote about a rather thoughtful analysis of the problems of the patent system by Intel founder and former CEO Andy Grove. His view was that patents separate the important part (the actual innovation) from the "asset" (the patent), and that allows for bad behavior. He compared it to mortgage-backed securities, where the underlying mortgages were completely separated from the "asset," and bad behavior ensued.


Here is another story of a company that arguably revolves around a software patent.

Aviv Refuah, the young CEO of the public Israeli company Netex Corporation, has managed to score a US patent on an internet search option developed by the company he founded that could well force major Internet search players like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo to cough up royalties for future use of the technology.

Refuah, who started the company 12 years ago when he was barely 17 years old, is careful not to overestimate the awarding of the patent and the possible outcome for now, but that didn’t stop the company’s stock from soaring yesterday.


Is licensing -- as opposed to production and servicing -- really valuable output? How about the novelty? What are the economic impacts and the effect on science and technology? These questions are rarely being asked.

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