Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Microsoft to launch patent war on open source?

From ZDNet on July 20, 2004:

Microsoft has been preparing for an all-out assault on open-source software via patent law, according to what is apparently an internal HP memo from 2002

What appears to be a leaked internal memo from HP shows that the company expected Microsoft to launch a full legal assault on free open-source software (FOSS) using patent law. The document, dated two years ago and revealed on the Newsforge FOSS news site yesterday, details concerns at the highest levels within HP that "basically Microsoft is going to use the legal system to shut down open-source software".

Microsoft has been filing numerous applications for a number of years, and thereby creating a large portfolio. They have hired IBMs IP guy and likely intend to follow the recent IBM model of licensing. Whether this is specifically directed to open source...

On July 20, 2004, CNET reported that HP was downplaying the significance of the two year old memo to the present time: The memo, first reported by open-source news site Newsforge, is authentic but "not relevant today" for both HP customers and open-source software users in general, said HP spokeswoman Elizabeth Phillips. "Since the memo is over two years old, we believe today's situation is different for the industry in general."
From Goodwins of ZDNet:
But this was two years ago, and the promised onslaught has yet to happen. Could this be just another bit of MS partner management, a bit of internal FUD designed to keep HP on the straight and narrow without the risks of having to actually do anything? Is Microsoft's patent arsenal there, as the company has said, purely for defensive purposes?

Let's look at what Microsoft has been doing in the intellectual property arena over the past couple of years. It has embarked on a record number of cross-licensing deals, including some with long-term combatants such as Sun, and started to open up its intellectual property portfolio to anyone who wants to sign up.

It has registered, bought or prepared thousands of patents. It has settled many long-running IP cases out of court, never to its advantage. It's said that academics can use its IP for free. Are these the signs of a company settling down to being a good corporate citizen and preparing to play by the rules, or a company preparing to use the court and patent system for a much bigger and more aggressive assault? If you don't habitually license your IP on fair terms, you have a hard time convincing the courts that you're suddenly in favor of the idea: ditto if you're in the habit of aggressively pushing claims of questionable merit.

Most significantly, though, Microsoft has hired Marshall Phelps.


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