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Microsoft Details FOSS Patent Breaches 576

Posted by Zonk
from the just-a-little-bit-dangerous dept.
CptRevelation writes "Microsoft has released more detailed information on the patents supposedly in breach by the open-source community. Despite their accusations of infringement, they state they would rather do licensing deals instead of any legal action. 'Open-source programs step on 235 Microsoft patents, the company said. Free Linux software violates 42 patents. Graphical user interfaces, the way menus and windows look on the screen, breach 65. E-mail programs step on 15, and other programs touch 68 other patents, the company said. The patent figures were first reported by Fortune magazine. Microsoft also said Open Office, an open-source program supported in part by Sun Microsystems Inc., infringes on 45 patents. Sun declined to comment on the allegation.'"
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Microsoft Details FOSS Patent Breaches

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  • by falcon5768 (629591) <Falcon5768@ c o mcast.net> on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @10:43AM (#19130089) Journal

    Graphical user interfaces, the way menus and windows look on the screen, breach 65
    You really DONT want to open that can of worms. Trust me you really dont.
    • Re:Oh microsoft (Score:5, Insightful)

      by UnknowingFool (672806) on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @10:48AM (#19130197)
      Somewhere in the legal departments of Apple, Xerox, HP, AT&T, and IBM, IP lawyers are getting ready for a counter strike. Complete with pirate uniforms. This cold war will escalate into a very hot war if MS goes through with it. :)
      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @11:47AM (#19131289)
        What makes you think Apple would fall on Linux's side? Apple has cross-patent deals with Microsoft that protect them from this kind of thing and Apple is very clear in the marketing materials that they are just as eager as Microsoft to see Linux go away. There seems to be this naive idea within the Linux community that Apple is a friendly company. Here's a clue guys, the enemy of my enemy is NOT always my friend.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by falcon5768 (629591)

          Apple is very clear in the marketing materials that they are just as eager as Microsoft to see Linux go away
          Source. Because seriously right now your talking out of your ass.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by aaarrrgggh (9205)
          A quick perusal of Apple's site suggests otherwise. Refer to This link [apple.com] for the following accolades of Free Software:

          The power and simplicity of Mac OS X Server begin with a UNIX-based foundation built around the Mach microkernel and the latest advances from the open source BSD community.

          nstead of developing proprietary technologies, Apple has embraced the best open source projects, such as Apache, Samba, OpenLDAP, Kerberos, Postfix, Jabber and SpamAssassin.

          Granted, Apple wants to sell their software. T

        • What makes you think Apple would fall on Linux's side? Apple has cross-patent deals with Microsoft that protect them from this kind of thing and Apple is very clear in the marketing materials that they are just as eager as Microsoft to see Linux go away. There seems to be this naive idea within the Linux community that Apple is a friendly company. Here's a clue guys, the enemy of my enemy is NOT always my friend.

          Not sure I buy this. I wouldn't say that Apple is exactly #1 in the "Linux Fan Club," but they have a lot to gain via open standards, at least when it's a choice of "open standards or Microsoft's proprietary standard." (I'm sure they'd much prefer their own proprietary standard being the One True Way, but as long as that's not going to happen, it's better nobody own it than a competitor.)

          I don't think you can sum up Apple or the Macintosh platform's relationship to open source in general, or Linux in particular, as just "love" or "hate." It's much more nuanced. Apple has a lot to gain by any slip in Windows marketshare and a loosening of Microsoft's hold on the desktop, particularly the home desktop (it's been a while since they've gone after the business desktop and I doubt they'll ever really try again). It's a lot easier for Apple to compete against Linux than it is to compete against Windows, because Linux has less lock-in. (I.e., you can switch a Linux user to Mac more easily than you can switch a Windows user to Mac.) However, at the same time, they compete with Linux in the smaller segment of "non-Windows OSes." (So, it's the converse of before -- it's easier to switch a Mac user to Linux, than a Windows user to Linux. Such is the double-edged sword of open standards.)

          You see the same issue with IBM -- on some levels, IBM is (or was) competing with Linux; e.g. vs AIX. (For this to make much sense you really have to think back a few years before they jumped on the open-source/open-standards bandwagon heavily.) Some of their divisions I'd expect still do (maybe database software?). There are probably a lot of non-IT examples around that people could come up with, too.

          Corporations, because they don't have a single controlling mind, can in many cases do things that would appear to be hypocritical or contradictory if they're anthropomorphized. There's a lot that's been written about this sort of behavior (Google "coopetition"), and it's a lot more complex than 'friends' and 'enemies.'
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by koh (124962)
      I'm confused. How many Xerox patents does MS infringe, then? All of them? Or maybe Xerox couldn't file any patents because software patents did not exist at that time? And what about Apple's UI patents?

      • Re:Oh microsoft (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Kadin2048 (468275) * <slashdot.kadinNO@SPAMxoxy.net> on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @11:19AM (#19130797) Homepage Journal
        I'm confused. How many Xerox patents does MS infringe, then? All of them? Or maybe Xerox couldn't file any patents because software patents did not exist at that time? And what about Apple's UI patents?

        I think Apple and Microsoft have a patent cross-licensing agreement. (They certainly seem to have an informal one, but I suspect it's been formalized at some point, maybe in one of their lawsuit-settlement stock trades.)

        From the NY Times: "In Its Case Against Microsoft, U.S. Now Cites Note From Apple [nytimes.com]," Oct 28, 1998

        Microsoft said that Apple agreed to opt for its browser as part of broad agreement that included a $150 million investment by Microsoft, cross-licensing of patents and settlement of an old legal case -- not just because of Microsoft's commitment to continue making business software for the Macintosh.
        It's been widely alleged that Microsoft got the patent cross-licensing agreement, and the IE-preinstall deal, by threatening to kill Office for Mac back in the late 90s, when a lot of people were ready to stick a fork in Apple.
    • Re:Oh microsoft (Score:5, Interesting)

      by psbrogna (611644) on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @11:00AM (#19130429)
      Anybody else see parallels between this & Disney whining about infringment after they made movies based on long standing folklore?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by MadJo (674225)
      How can you even have 65 patents on menu's and windows?
      Did they patent the location of every button and menu option?
    • by BenSchuarmer (922752) on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @11:13AM (#19130691)
      "You're trying to kidnap what I've rightfully stolen."
    • by kalidasa (577403) on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @11:17AM (#19130761) Journal
      Hey, Microsoft, 1988 called. They want their look-and-feel lawsuit back.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by gunnk (463227)
        Or...

        Hey, Microsoft, SCO called. They want their business model back.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ptrace (1078855)
      This is just a sign that Microsoft has "jumped the shark". Pursuing this line of 'competition' just means that Microsoft is growing more and more wary of FOSS software momentum... SaaS, Web Services, Linux, etc. is slowly starting to press on Microsoft. Where are they going to innovate (or appropriate) next? Wait another six years for the next OS release? Microsoft main objective is not really to extort money from FOSS users; they're just trying to inject the typical Microsoft FUD to slow adoption of al
    • Re:Oh microsoft (Score:4, Insightful)

      by LWATCDR (28044) on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @12:05PM (#19131597) Homepage Journal
      The big risk is that they loose and this then taken as evidence of anti-trust. Microsoft is a convicted monopoly after all. They got a wrist slap last time this time could be different.
      Since some EU companies are involved could this get Microsoft into even deeper hot water with the EU?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        It's debatable whether any of the MS software patents would stand up in the EU anyway. Although the Europe-wide patent body has awarded a few patents that might be described in those terms over the years, as a general principle we don't currently have them, and the enforceability of the odd few in European countries is doubtful.

  • Zoom in... (Score:5, Funny)

    by mccalli (323026) on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @10:44AM (#19130099) Homepage
    One more level of zoom required, Microsoft. Still can't tell what you're actually saying.

    Cheers,
    Ian
  • by MikeRT (947531) on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @10:45AM (#19130137) Homepage
    Have some people at IBM tally up publicly how many patents Windows and Microsoft Office violate. Then have them say, "what's the point, are you going to actually sue someone over this?"
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @10:46AM (#19130151)
    after all, who knows more about breaches than Microsoft

    Microsoft's customers too...they get used to having their breaches around their ankles on a daily basis
  • No new details (Score:5, Informative)

    by NakNomik (21692) on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @10:47AM (#19130175)
    This is still old news. There are no new details in this article that were not already present in the one Slashdot reported on Sunday (the CNN Money article, http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_arc hive/2007/05/28/100033867/index.htm?section=money_ latest [cnn.com])
  • by the_rajah (749499) * on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @10:48AM (#19130203) Homepage
    until we get patent numbers and exactly what it is that is infringing on it. Put up or shut up.
  • by repetty (260322) on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @10:49AM (#19130213) Homepage
    By getting ourselves worked up about this we are only playing into their strategy. This threat worries only the people who don't know better. (Not coincidentally, these are frequently the people making technology investment and purchasing decisions. This is an old, faithful Microsoft business technique.)

    We all know that this is a ruse. We know it.

    We can do our part by ignoring this non-event.

    --Richard
  • My patents (Score:4, Funny)

    by Ziest (143204) on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @10:49AM (#19130223) Homepage
    "You are violating a bunch of my double secret patents. You have to guess which ones. I don't have to tell you. Give me money."

    Now, where have I heard this before?
  • They are afraid. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by shaitand (626655) on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @10:51AM (#19130259) Journal
    Microsoft is afraid, plain and simple. This an edorsement by the market leader that Linux is ready for the desktop. They were afraid to see Novell pushing it but when Dell went onboard and picked the most user friendly of distros to do it with; Microsoft became terrified.

    Do you know why you never saw something like this from Microsoft before? They didn't think it was worth their time.

    In any case, it is FUD; there might be a vulnerable project or two but there is basically a stalemate on this one. That is why they are pushing for licensing instead of filing a lawsuit.

    This is a good thing. Most MBA's will see right through both the motivation and the push for licensing.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @10:54AM (#19130327)
    Dear Microsoft,

    In case you haven't realized, "Linux" is not a single entity. When you say Linux breaches patents on email or graphical user interfaces, are you aware that:
    • there are multiple email programs and window managers produced in many countries around the world, a lot of which do not have software patenting laws
    • Linus & co. working on the kernel have absolutely nothing (or at the most, extremely little) to do with email applications and GUI prettiness
    • Unix predates Windows and there is a LOT of prior art (and I imagine patents as well) on most of the aspects of the Windows operating system and Office suite
    • Going up against big companies who rely on Linux (Sun, IBM, etc) could unleash a patent war in the reverse direction (and a lot of unfriendliness)

    Best Regards from Sweden,

    Someone who doesn't care about your patent claims.
  • by packetmon (977047) on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @10:55AM (#19130345) Homepage
    Method and apparatus for clicking

    Abstract

    A click is made when someone's finger presses down on a mouse

    Inventors: Microsoft
    Assignee: Microsoft
    Filed: March 14, 1929

    See!
  • Of course! (Score:5, Funny)

    by TheWoozle (984500) on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @10:56AM (#19130349)
    "...but the company says it still prefers licensing deals with open-source developers, software distributors and users instead of legal action against them."

    Me too! I prefer people to just give me money rather than have to go through all the hassle of producing something of value.

    Hey, Microsoft! I've got a bunch of patents that you're infringing and I would prefer that you go ahead and license them from me rather than starting an ugly legal battle. I'll even give you a deal (just this once, because you like a nice kid): $100 Million for the lot. This offer won't be repeated, so take advantage while you still can!
  • by qwijibo (101731) on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @10:57AM (#19130381)
    The owners of these projects should make a deal with Microsoft to give them 30% of the revenue from the open source code in return for licensing the patents. 30% of 0 is still 0.
  • by Baavgai (598847) on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @11:00AM (#19130431) Homepage
    SCO called and wants it's business plan back.

    Giving counts is pretty useless. Calling it more detailed it like saying you'll release the personal information of the vicitms and just giving a list of nationalities; you really don't know more than you did before, but the feed got you to stay tuned.
  • by crow (16139) on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @11:00AM (#19130439) Homepage Journal
    I expect most of the kernel infringements are in optional kernel modules. I've heard rumblings about vfat having patents in the past, and I expect there are some in the SMB client code. Unfortunately, it may be impossible to re-implement those to avoid the patent issues, because the patents may cover core aspects that are required for interoperability.

    If we ever get a full detailed list of patent issues, I can foresee the day that one of the first questions in the kernel configuration is whether to include portions that may violate patent rights, and the help text on various options would cite specific patent numbers that have been claimed. Or, perhaps more generally, it could ask what legal jurisdiction you're in, so that it can block the modules that are protected in that country.
  • by Flying pig (925874) on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @11:02AM (#19130473)
    Applied in the Isle of Man (Ubuntu) and Germany (the home of StarOffice). Let alone the rest of the EU.

    The implications for all this are interesting. Does Microsoft really want European software slowly to drift away from its link to the US? Because they are exposing more and more to European legislators that, in effect, they want to enforce a charge on European businesses based on US law that is not applicable in the EU. They already have done themselves no favours with the Competition Commission. Given that the Open Document format is now an international standard, the EU is quite free to use free software to implement it while the US might end up having to pay a Microsoft tax. That is an interesting possibility.

    Many years ago at a seminar on patent and trademark law, I asked the lawyer who was acting as convenor what, in his view, the position would be if a manufacturer attempted to claim that only their patented technology was able to create an instance of something complying with an international standard which was embodied in European harmonisation. To which his reply was "You're just being a smartass." It looks like there could yet be a test case.

  • by radtea (464814) on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @11:03AM (#19130499)

    Until they tell us specifically which patents are being violated by what software, we cannot take any remedial action.

    There are two possible cases: 1) no free software violates any MS patents; and 2) some free software violates some MS patents, but we don't know what software violates what patents because MS refuses to tell us.

    Ergo, it is reasonable to assume that since MS has made it impossible for potential infringers to take any action to avoid infringement, that they have an interest in any infringement that occurs. That is, MS is promoting infringement of their own patents.

    Indeed, the article says, "But Augustin also acknowledged that it's not in Microsoft's interest to do so: Open-source programmers could rewrite their code to avoid infringing on specific patents, or the courts could find that Microsoft's patent isn't valid."

    I am not a lawyer, but when a party promotes the infringement of their own patents it might be reasonable to assume that they may be estopped from ever enforcing those patents in the future.

    MS needs to tell us specifically which free software is violating what patents. If they do not tell us that we are justified in assuming that either no free software violates any patents, or that MS is entirely ok with all the free software that violates any of their patents. If they were not ok with it, they would tell us exactly which free software violated exactly what patents.
  • by seebs (15766) on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @11:03AM (#19130509) Homepage
    I didn't see any detail in this article that wasn't in the previous one.
  • by lnxnomad (1094381) on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @11:22AM (#19130859)
    According to Google (Issued Patents [google.com]) Microsoft has apx 600 issued patents dating back to January 1987 (don't care about any issued prior to that). So lets create a project to evaluate each patent for validity and non-obivousness, locate prior-art if any, and identify possible infringement in FOSS code.

    Note that many of these are for things we may not care about (like mice, keyboards etc) so the number to analyse will go down. Still non-trivial, but all it needs is persistence, the help of a few law students, and the IT crowd to hunt down prior art. And lets put it all in one place where anyone that gets sued can go to for a definitive reference.

    BTW, I am not aware of such a thing being out there already, if so then please let me know, my quick search didn't find it this morning.

    What do you all think?

  • by LionMage (318500) on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @11:32AM (#19131037) Homepage

    Graphical user interfaces, the way menus and windows look on the screen, breach 65. E-mail programs step on 15

    OK, so let's look at historical precedent. Microsoft was sued by Apple (unsuccessfully) for infringement of look-and-feel "copyrights" and various UI patents. This case dragged on for years, and resulted in Apple and Microsoft eventually calling a truce.

    Then along came Adobe, which sued Macromedia because Adobe had patents on certain types of tool palettes. Adobe then turned around and bought Macromedia. (Yes, some time elapsed between these two events, but still...)

    Now Microsoft is alleging that they own intellectual property used in the Linux kernel and various key pieces of software outside the kernel. The above claims are interesting, considering Microsoft's track record of claiming ownership of various UI elements. So far, Apple and Xerox have remained silent, but they may not for much longer. I'm even more curious about the claim of 15 patents in e-mail. After all, e-mail technology has been with us since ARPANet; SMTP and POP are exceedingly well established, and were certainly not invented by Microsoft; I don't even think MS can claim ownership of IMAP. So, what exactly are they claiming ownership of?

    To me, this looks like a ploy to "convert" Linux and all of the ancillary GNU programs and FOSS programs that are widely used. By "convert," I mean obtain ownership of. Since Microsoft can't litigate a particular company out of business in order to kill Linux, they're playing a much sneakier game. They've already bought off Novell so as to avoid having to deal with them in any SCO-style lawsuits. How long before the settlement offers start pouring in -- and the settlements basically mean ownership of the code?

    As has been pointed out by others, this article really doesn't demonstrate that Microsoft has revealed any more information -- they'd already broken down the number of patent violations by category a couple days ago. But you can bet that Microsoft will make sure to keep this story in the news as often as possible... especially with an Attorney General in office who's willing to push legislation to favor Microsoft.
  • Is Mono dead? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by L'homme de Fromage (838405) on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @11:39AM (#19131141)
    While Microsoft still hasn't said exactly which patents are being violated, and many of their claims are likely invalid, they probably do have valid claims on certain parts of Mono's implementation of .NET (specifically, Windows.Forms, ASP.NET and ADO.NET). If the Mono team removes those parts, then Mono is effectively dead, in my opinion. Not that I'll be losing any sleep over that, mind you. I always thought Mono was a waste of time for Linux. Even more so now that Java is GPLed.
  • by Todd Knarr (15451) on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @11:39AM (#19131155) Homepage

    Objection. So far MS hasn't actually specified any patents which they claim are infringed. They've given numbers, but they've declined to say which patents are on the list. I think I'll have to borrow the phrasing from IBM's very first few interrogatories to SCO: Please identify with specificity which patents held by Microsoft are alleged to be infringed, and which code (by software project, file, version and line) is alleged to infringe upon those patents.

    Despite their accusations of infringement, they state they would rather do licensing deals instead of any legal action.

    A prerequisite for licensing is to identify exactly what the licensee will be paying for a license to. Until MS places that on the table, why should I pay good money for a pig in a poke?

  • Don't be blind (Score:4, Insightful)

    by shelterpaw (959576) on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @11:43AM (#19131229)
    to what Microsoft is really doing. They're not trying to stop the innovation or progress of OSS development. They are trying to stop the adoption of OSS by making these patent claims and then having the claims published in trade magazines and the web.

    This is probably the most effective way to protect their bottom line. Going into court isn't what they want. They want doubt in prospective OSS adopters. With doubt comes the likelihood of sticking with what's safe. It's the same sort of campaign they "allegedly" helped SCO take-on to help stifle OSS adoption. From what I can tell, it had a impact for quite some time.

    I am sure Microsoft knows that quite a few patents may not hold up. They'll only get bad publicity in the tech world, but to shareholders and the rest of the world, they'll look like they're protecting their assets. They had record profits last quarter and will continue to do so by spreading doubt in prospective adopters minds. It's so simple and yet so effective.
  • by viewtouch (1479) on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @11:58AM (#19131473) Homepage Journal
    Just take a look at this one, for instance.

    http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PT O2&Sect2=HITOFF&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsearch-b ool.html&r=4&f=G&l=50&co1=AND&d=PTXT&s1=Microsoft. ASNM.&s2=%22user+interface%22.TI.&OS=AN/Microsoft+ AND+TTL/%22user+interface%22&RS=AN/Microsoft+AND+T TL/%22user+interface%22 [uspto.gov]

    There is not a judge in the world, much less a jury, that could possibly even comprehend the text of this patent.

    And there is no way in hell that the patent examiner could possibly have comprehended what the patent application was about.
  • by 3seas (184403) on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @12:01PM (#19131537) Journal
    ... untill MS presents the evidence, the evidence is researched by those who are the coders of suppose infringments, and recognition of infringment is done by such coders.

    Until then it can safely be assumed that MS is being what we all have come to expect them to be, due the reputation they have worked to establish. Dishonest.

    Its best to call MS's cards on this. The sooner it is addressed openly and honestly the better.
  • This isn't news (Score:3, Insightful)

    by twistedcubic (577194) on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @12:12PM (#19131715)
    They didn't release any details. I was shocked to hear the headline, but as usual, Slashdot summaries never fail to disappoint.
  • by noldrin (635339) on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @12:20PM (#19131849)
    We need to be proactive. Let's create a groklaw type service just for Microsoft Patents and start building prior art cases for any patent Free Software is potentially infringing on. They are gathering their troops, let's start gathering ours. See if they are as bold.
  • My take on this (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rabtech (223758) on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @12:24PM (#19131925) Homepage
    I think this is a result of the recent Supreme Court action that raised the bar for patentability. I suspect that a large number of Microsoft's software patents (and everyone else's for that matter) will not withstand scrutiny under the new test.

    This is just a net being scattered far and wide to try and turn some of their (now worthless) patents into revenue before anyone has the chance to challenge the validity of those patents.

    My suggestion? Don't take the bait.

  • by popo (107611) on Tuesday May 15, 2007 @12:24PM (#19131937) Homepage
    Why is Microsoft doing this now? And more importantly, is the onus on the patent holder to make this claim in a timely manner?

    It seems to me that a viable strategy of patent holders (looking to profit from previously unprofitable patents) would be to
    allow them to be tread upon by competing products, until at such time that those competing products become financially viable...
    and *then* file suit.

    This strategy seems less about protecting one's intellectual property, and more about encouraging the competition to cement
    its dependency on your patents in order to extract greater compensation at a later date.

    Anyone know if there's a requirement to file a cease-and-desist in a timely manner?

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