Bonum Certa Men Certa

Microsoft's Attacks on Android and GNU/Linux Not Over Yet, But They Are Definitely Failing

Sleight of hand and litigation by proxy don't work

A performer



Summary: The Rockstar patents sale and the final defeat suffered by SCO serve to show that Microsoft cannot beat Free/libre software using aggression and underhanded tactics

Microsoft's attempts to crush GNU/Linux culminated with the Novell deal in 2006. Microsoft tried to make the competition its own, but it never worked because people antagonised Novell and no large company really followed Novell's footsteps. Novell is now essentially dead, much like other Microsoft 'partners'.



"This isn't happening because Apple and Microsoft decided to play nicer."Over a decade ago Microsoft paid SCO when it attacked Linux. This was similar to what Novell later did with Microsoft because both used a form of monopoly, either copyrights or patents. Microsoft subsidised anti-GNU/Linux campaigns that did cause a lot of damage. In neither case, however, were the claims valid and both campaigns failed after years or endless struggle, hinged to a great degree on the goodwill of the Free software community.

Simon Sharwood from The Register wrote about a fortnight ago about Groklaw, which had silently become a bit active again, for the first time in many months. Sharwood wrote: "IBM has had a win in its long court battle with SCO over just who owns Unix and, by extension, whether Linux is an unauthorised clone.

"Some quick and simplified history: SCO – short for The Santa Cruz Operation – was a software company that offered a version of Unix for x86 chippery. When Linux came along in the late 90s and started turning into a business, SCO more or less sank and it attacked both Novell and IBM for their role in helping to spread Linus Torvalds' brainchild. At stake was whether those who distribute and profit from Linux should share some of their bounty with SCO. If a court had found in SCO's favour, it would have been bad news for Linux.

"The Novell suit ran for about six years, but SCO lost. After that, SCO endured all manner of financial strife, but managed to crawl from the crypt more than once. Last year, SCO managed to secure approval to re-open the case against IBM."

Robert Pogson wrote about that too:

It’s nice to know that GROKLAW is not dead, just hibernating. Maybe spring will wake it up. Surely there’s some legal case interesting enough to fire it up, like world v Obamacare, or world v N. Korea, or … Of course, now that M$ loves */Linux and Apple has acknowledged that round corners are not innovative there are fewer lawsuits in the world but until all those who fought GNU/Linux for two decades die of old age, there’s still hope they will seek to humiliate themselves in the courts.


This serves to remind us that the Microsoft-backed copyright attack on Linux took well over a decade to be over. This induced a huge toll and Microsoft continues to attack Linux, usually by proxy. Here for example is the Microsoft booster Ina Fried attacking Linux again. He or she (used to be called Ian) has found a way to make the most popular OS (Android) sound like a failure. It's ugly spin like that which we see other Microsoft boosters spreading in the media (some of them used to work directly for Microsoft or are still working for Microsoft). Watch BGR trolling (clickbait) with one person's account to make Android sound undesirable [1, 2]. These are fights that are fought with words, but Microsoft goes much further than this. A couple of years ago Microsoft and its proxies tried to cause Android to come under antitrust trouble, but they have failed based on reports. To quote The Register: "A US District Court judge has cast doubt on an antitrust lawsuit filed against Google, describing the damages sought as "speculative."

"The class-action suit filed earlier this year alleges that Google engages in illegal anti-competitive behavior by requiring makers of Android smartphones to bundle its search app on their devices."

Remember that this all came from Microsoft. We wrote several articles to show this and so did other sites. In addition to legal attacks through regulators Microsoft has been attacking Android through patent trolls (Microsoft has just given another $23,000,000 to patent troll VirnetX) and patent holders which still have some products. Several examples have been given over the years and the legal assaults are far from over.

The Open Invention Network, which defends Linux (and other related projects) from patent attacks, recently gave this interview to ECT. The Open Invention Network's CEO Keith Bergelt said that "we had to create channels for collaboration. Otherwise, we would have hundreds of entities spending billions of dollars on the same technology." It's not "technology" that he is alluding to when he talks about it; it's a parable for patents.

As GNU/Linux is becoming a massive player in the fastest-growing markets, notably mobile, no wonder Microsoft now mostly attacks Android and strives to derive revenue from it (or create fear through perception that Microsoft derives revenue from it). Windows is a complete disaster in this area. Ahonen explains how bad things are in his article that he titled "Microsoft (and Nokia) have only achieved 50M Lumia activations? Seriously? Out of 76M shipments? What happened to the other 26M? Seriously! Tossed into garbage by retail?"

Ahonen, a Nokia expert, says that "30% of all Windows Phone based Lumia smartphones shipped have not been activated. That must be an industry record for futility. [...] the product line was a sales disaster. "

Microsoft's patent strategy against Android is clearly not succeeding. Even a Microsoft lobbyist, Florian Müller, wrote about the poor success rates of patent lawsuits against Android and told me today that Rockstar too is part of it all.

"The interesting part about Rockstar is that since they sold 2K patents to shareholders, hard to prove devaluation of rest," he said to me, "but one can certainly suspect that if they bought 6K patents for $4.5B, sell two thirds for $900M, that there *was* devaluation" (take with a grain of salt given the messenger's connection to Microsoft and Apple).

There was recently a lot of press coverage about telecom patents and Android because Verizon announced that it entered into a patent licensing agreement with Google (more in [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29]), but a bigger story, especially in FOSS-friendly circles, was the Rockstar story. As FOSS Force put it: "Perhaps the most telling sign of the sinking value of software patents came just a week ago, when the patent trolling company Rockstar, jointly owned by Apple, Microsoft, BlackBerry, Sony, and Ericsson, offloaded it’s approximately 4,000 remaining patents for $900 million — representing about two thirds of the patents it purchased in 2011 for $4.5 billion in a bidding war with Google. Google would seem to have the last laugh here, as it’s a member of RPX, the company buying the patents, meaning they’ll will be available to the search company as protection against patent litigation, which is why they had been a bidder in the first place."

BlackBerry is becoming a patent troll and RPX is pretty much a troll, albeit one that is not so hostile towards Free software because of its members. Mike Masnick said about the news that the "Stupid Costly Patent Nuclear War By Microsoft & Apple Against Android [was] Averted". He put it in context as follows: "Last year, Rockstar launched its massive patent attack on Android, suing basically all the major Android phone makers and Google. While some have argued that big company v. big company patent attacks aren't a form of patent trolling, some of us disagree. This, like most patent trolling, is just trying to extract money from companies and has nothing to do with actual innovation. In the tech world, some have referred to this kind of thing as "privateering" in which a big company puts the patents into a shell company to hide their trolling activity."

Joe Mullin said that "Apple and Microsoft spent $4.5 billion on a patent attack, sold it at a loss."

"Another skirmish in the ongoing dirty war by the legacy technology & media industry against Google bites the dust," wrote Simon Phipps, adding to many more articles (even some from Android-hostile networks) that framed this -- quite correctly -- as an assault on Android:

Apple- and Microsoft-backed patent group ends its war on Android



And just like that, the Rockstar Consortium's lawsuit campaign against Android is over. The patent holding group (backed by Apple, BlackBerry, Ericsson, Microsoft and Sony) has sold all of its commonly held patents to clearinghouse RPX for $900 million, or a fraction of the $4.5 billion the total patent pool was worth a few years ago. Rockstar will accordingly drop the lawsuits that it still had left, including those leveled against HTC, LG and Samsung. Don't worry that RPX will promptly turn around and sue someone else, either. It already has a deal to license those patents for defensive purposes to a group of 30-plus companies, including Google and Cisco, while the Rockstar companies get to keep their licenses.


This isn't happening because Apple and Microsoft decided to play nicer. It is happening because they repeatedly fail to defeat Android/Linux using patents, especially now that software patents are becoming a lot weaker in the United States -- a subject we shall cover in our next post.

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