03.07.09

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Innovative Microsoft

Posted in Action, Courtroom, GNU/Linux, Google, Kernel, Microsoft, OIN, Oracle, Red Hat, TomTom at 8:45 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

INNOVA~1 Galore

“I don’t understand how IE is going to win. The current path is simply to copy everything that Netscape does packaging and product wise.”

Jim Allchin, President of Platforms & Services Division at Microsoft

Summary: Synopsis of developments regarding the legal challenges Microsoft unleashes upon Linux

THE principal question about TomTom’s lawsuit has recently been transformed into one which revolves around GPL compliance and ethical traps. This latest angle is already being examined, explained, and summarised. Mary Jo Foley, who is in good terms with Jeremy Allison (she interviewed him before), wrote about this issue which was first raised by him. She summarised the TomTom issue — as it appears at this stage in particular– without provoking:

[I]t’s looking more and more like the open sourcers are right and TomTom is the canary in the Linux-patent coal mine.

One of our readers explained this whole situation in simple terms, as follows: “The lawsuit publicizes a patent trap of Microsoft’s own creation. Microsoft created a de facto industry standard in the FAT (File Allocation Table) format that it made widely available for adoption without letting it be known that it held and would assert the patents behind the standard. What makes the FAT patents valuable is not the technology behind them but the fact that they were promoted and accepted as a standard without word that Microsoft would someday come asking for money. Two of the patents are for converting between long and short file names – a FAT function that is commonly implemented in digital cameras, MP3 players, and other devices, not just in Windows and Linux.

“Some wishful thinkers within the open source community may accept Microsoft’s claim that this is about TomTom rather than Linux, along with the blather that accompanies most patent litigation about how Microsoft would rather license than litigate. But this is in fact a landmark assault into the most troubled and controversial terrain of the patent system. It will reverberate for a long time to come.”

Microsoft’s latest action has already led to public protests. Here is the leaflet distributed in Brussels protests a few days ago [PDF]. To quote a portion:

Economic Parasites

When your tech product or website is accused of infringing a software patent, you can:
• Pay the patent holder a licence fee; they decide the amount
• Fight the patents in court – expensive and time consuming

• Take your product off the market
These are the options currently being considered by Tom Tom NV.
Microsoft is claiming that Tom Tom’s car navigation systems violate eight Microsoft patents.

Groklaw has begun taking a closer look at the TomTom case and one person points out (from the comments): “I *also* wonder this: Microsoft is a big company. Has Microsoft *ever* distributed a Linux based device with VFAT support? If so, would the fact that, under the GPL they cannot do so without conveying a patent license to the recipient that is transferable to anybody the recipient sees fit, and the fact that Microsoft as owner of the VFAT patents is able to provide such a license mean that it can be legally assumed they DID provide such a license?”

Asks one informant of ours: “What about Microsoft’s Linux lab and their offerings to Apache and SAMBA? What if Microsoft released something under the GPL (to anyone), doesn’t that mean they relinquish any necessary patent claims?” We already know for a fact that Microsoft uses GNU/Linux-based products, but using is not necessarily selling.

A few days ago, Red Hat got sued by a partner of Microsoft (little more information here), but that’s not the main concern in people’s mind because it symbolises Red Hat’s rise to prominence. An interesting addendum from Open Sources states this:

[UPDATE: 2009-03-05 9.30a ET] I’m told that Oracle is also a defendant, although this filing is from April 2008.

Oracle is a member of OIN, so it is likely to be part of the battle that was initiated against TomTom. Additionally, the last time this case was mentioned it was also shown that Google had grown tired of the patent system (Google too is a relatively recent addition to OIN’s members). The word is still spreading out there and since many people respect (sometimes love) Google, they come to disrespect the patent system. Academics too continue to dispute the viability and value of this system.

Markets outperform patents in promoting intellectual discovery, say economists

When it comes to intellectual curiosity and creativity, a market economy in which inventors can buy and sell shares of the key components of their discoveries actually beats out the winner-takes-all world of patent rights as a motivating force, according to a California Institute of Technology (Caltech)-led team of researchers.

Further discussion at TechDirt:

[O]nce again, the study found that a free market solution greatly outperforms a patent monopoly solution where the “first” provider gets a monopoly. The research was led by economist Peter Bossaerts and a team of others — and it made a point that won’t surprise anyone who’s studied the economics of monopolies. Patents tend to function just like any other monopoly system: it shrinks the overall market, decreases net social benefit, provides monstrously excess rewards to a single provider and harms everyone else. In fact, the research found that the patent system created a massive disincentive for many people to participate in the very process, even if their contributions could have been quite helpful in speeding along the innovation.

Given that software patents may have already died (most of them anyway [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14]), Microsoft’s last resort in the fight against Linux may be dead on arrival. Linux vendors can carry on doing business with confidence that Linux is here to thrive, as is GNU.

Google’s market cap is not far from surpassing that of Microsoft. That’s how deep in trouble Microsoft is, especially now that Google expands from Linux phones to Linux 'desktops' (sub-notebooks), as of yesterday’s reports.

GNU and Linux

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