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Microsoft Patents Linux Your Rights Online

Microsoft Letting Patents Move To Linux Firms 228

mnmlst notes a Wall Street Journal story (picked up at Total Telecom) on the move of some patents originally held by Microsoft to the Open Invention Network, where they will join a portfolio whose purpose is to inoculate open source companies against patent trolls. OIN is near a deal to buy 22 patents from another patent-protective group, Allied Security Trust, whose members include Verizon, Cisco, and HP. AST won the patents in a private auction Microsoft put on earlier. An AST executive says that "Microsoft presented the patents to potential bidders in its auction as relating to Linux." While OIN's acquisition of the patents will act to protect the Linux community, AST, by contrast, exists to protect only its corporate members, not the community as a whole. But by selling the patents to OIN, they are cooperating in the protection of Linux. And by allowing the patents to go to AST in the first place, Microsoft may (the article implies) be signaling at least their lack of active intent to disrupt the Linux marketplace.
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Microsoft Letting Patents Move To Linux Firms

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  • by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @11:45PM (#29361569) Homepage Journal

    All this talk of "defensive patents" that supposedly "protect the community" is just a fraud. To protect the community, take all the documentation of the patent, and put it in the public domain. Then, anyone who wants can implement the tech, without restriction, forever. Keeping it patented retains the power of the patent holder to deny implementation to someone, sometime.

    If they were really serious about merely protecting the community, they'd give up the patent control entirely. But it's clear that "the" community just means whoever the patent holder wants to defend from someone else who they exclude. That's entirely against what the Linux way of real open development means: anyone, anytime can join the community by coding and releasing.

    These "defensive" patent orgs will bite us in the ass. Otherwise they wouldn't be investing time and money in not just the patent portfolios and all the work to maintain them, but also in conning us into believing it's for our own good.

  • by williamhb ( 758070 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @12:03AM (#29361717) Journal

    why isn't microsoft doing everything possible to destroy linux? Is this a "saved apple" moment all over again??

    Not quite. Saving Apple was (presumably) to help stave off the anti-trust suits against Microsoft by preserving a weak but "potentially credible" competitor. Helping Linux seems much more straightforward: Linux's overlap with Windows is much smaller than its overlap with HP, IBP, and Sun/Oracle. So, Microsoft might well help Linux to weaken HP, IBM, and Sun/Oracle, reckoning that Linux is unlikely itself ever to be a credible threat to Microsoft's own sales. Which (Linux-cheerleading aside) is an understandable assessment as most commercial purchasers tend to run different software on Linux machines than on Windows machines, and it is more often the software decision that drives the hardware purchase (rather than the other way around). So, Microsoft doesn't primarily need to "compete Windows with Linux", they need to "compete SQL-Server with Oracle", "Exchange with Lotus Notes", "IIS with Apache and JBoss", etc.

  • by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @12:13AM (#29361775)

    It's not a given that MS wants to do everything possible to destroy Linux, at least not immediately.

    Having a (bad) competitor can be better than not having one at all, as it's a useful tool to deny having a monopoly. They can use this as an example to show to the EU commissisions in order to prove they're not trying to stop Linux from competing.

    Linux can help MS... it can get companies that are still using proprietary UNIX such as HP-UX, AIX on SPARCs or Itaniums to switch to Xeon over time. Adopting x86 architecture with a familiar UNIX-like OS is the first step towards maybe someday switching those to Windows 2008...

    Also, when makers of various gadgets build devices that contain embedded open source software, MS would probably prefer that the popular devices interoperate with Windows (in some cases, using MS technologies), and not just Apple...

    And there's a remote possibility that one day, a version of Windows could be based on an open source kernel <G>

  • by ozmanjusri ( 601766 ) <(moc.liamtoh) (ta) (bob_eissua)> on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @12:15AM (#29361785) Journal
    why isn't microsoft doing everything possible to destroy linux?

    It is.

    Microsoft isn't a homogeneous organisation. Parts of it are still in the "Embrace" part of the plan while others are working on "Extinguish" []

  • by twitter ( 104583 ) * on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @12:25AM (#29361849) Homepage Journal

    Please contribute to efforts to eliminate software patents, they are a threat to software and business freedom.

    Anyone who thinks patents can ever protect gnu/linux, you have been sorely mislead. Where was OIN when M$ was stomping on TomTom and that NAS company? Sitting on their hands, that's where. Patents, as they exist, will always harm small companies who are at the mercy of giant like M$, IBM and other hoarders. Having to beg big companies not to sue you is not software freedom. Even the giants are threatened by patent trolls now.

    Business method patents are not capitalism, it's government protected business monopolies. This is something the US founding fathers hated with a passion. Things are even worse than the king's fiat because government has been less than competent about establishing the winners and losers besides themselves. 20 years ago, people would have called it Communism and pointed to failures in the USSR. Biski can not eliminate softare and business method patents soon enough.

  • by SanityInAnarchy ( 655584 ) <> on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @12:27AM (#29361865) Journal

    take all the documentation of the patent, and put it in the public domain.

    That's what a patent does in the first place!

    It just provides monopoly protection for actually using said patent.

    In fact, this was the whole point of patents. Say I invented lemonade. Without a patent, I'd keep it my secret family recipe for generations, and anyone who wanted to make lemonade would have to reverse engineer it -- but if someone did, I wouldn't be able to say much.

    With a patent, I would publish the documentation ("It's just sugar, water, and lemon juice.") and then only I can make lemonade. Or I can license the recipe to others -- it's not like they don't know how to make it now, it's that they legally can't unless I let them.

    If they were really serious about merely protecting the community, they'd give up the patent control entirely.

    I'm not sure it's legally possible to do that, is the problem. Moreover, having a process patented provides clear documentation that you patented it first, thus putting the burden on anyone's infringing patent to prove that they invented it before you did.

    No, my big problems with this are not that I think the result is bad, but because I think it should be unnecessary -- I highly doubt Microsoft has any stunning invention that Linux "stole" for which prior art doesn't exist a thousandfold, and even if there were, I'm not sure software patents should exist at all.

    But if I'm going to accept that they exist, and that someone has to hold them, I'd much rather that someone not be Microsoft, no matter how legally binding their "covenant not to sue" is.

    Though it would be pretty slimy if this new organization doesn't have some sort of "covenant not to sue." Maybe that's the motive? Blech, now I have to go wash the evil from my brain...

  • Re:Groklaw Theory (Score:2, Insightful)

    by SanityInAnarchy ( 655584 ) <> on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @12:29AM (#29361877) Journal

    It's not paranoid when they actually are out to get you.

    And really -- I know you're often pro-Microsoft, borderline fanboy, but even you should be able to see that Steve "FUCKING KILL GOOGLE" Ballmer would love a chance to cut Linux off at the knees.

  • by sitarlo ( 792966 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @12:33AM (#29361901)
    UNIX is bigger than US patents. It is a culture that became an OS that became a culture. Linux gave the poor man a way to run a UNIX-like OS without having to shell out big bucks to Sun, HP, AT&T, SCO, or another UNIX vendor. Linux has become a culture in its own right. If MS were smart, they'd drop the "we hate all things UNIX" attitude and develop their own OSX-style distro that could be run on cheap PC hardware which would put them in position to actually take back some of the market Apple has claimed, and Google is about to claim. Besides, copying Apple is what they do best.
  • by Nefarious Wheel ( 628136 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @01:11AM (#29362119) Journal

    It may also be the first shot in an attempt to embrace and extend, too. After all, there's quite a lot of rather nice technology in Linux. Apt-get and the open source infrastructure is a heck of an improvement over Microsoft's "Add or remove programs" feature, in my opinion, to say nothing of the dog. Just one example.

    I wonder if future convergence will ever reach a point where I'll be writing this on my favorite (yet to be developed) operating system, an outgrowth of some mixture of a number of them.

    Or maybe I'll just chuck it all and go back to VMS.

  • by Hurricane78 ( 562437 ) <<deleted> <at> <>> on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @01:26AM (#29362217)

    He said it best:

    “Whenever a controversial law is proposed, and its supporters, when confronted with an egregious abuse it would permit, use a phrase along the lines of 'Perhaps in theory, but the law would never be applied in that way' - they're lying. They intend to use the law that way as early and as often as possible.”
    meringuoid (568297) @ 2005-11-24 16:40 (#14107454) []

  • by DECS ( 891519 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @01:35AM (#29362279) Homepage Journal

    Rethink your position. The point of defensive patents is to leverage what you have to make up for what you don't have.

    If you sue me over patent A, I can countersue you over patent B, and force you to settle with me amicably in a sharing arrangement.

    If I give away by patent B so that unicorns dance among sunshine and rainbow farts, then I end up fucked when you sue me over patent A. I am also powerless to help anyone else in the open source community being attacked over patent A, because I gave away my leverage to the public domain.

    I'm all for beating swords into plowshares, but if you're likely to show up and stab me with your sword, I better keep my sword around, too.

    Inside Mac OS X Snow Leopard: 64-bits []

  • by IntlHarvester ( 11985 ) * on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @01:38AM (#29362299) Journal

    Possibly because according to the news, Microsoft has far more problems with patent trolls and their ilk than they do with Linux infringing on their intellectual property.

    I can see how it makes sense to ally with the "good guys" (including the the biggest patent assholes aka IBM) to create a broad patent pool for mutual self-defense. This also benefits the OSS community because its only a matter of time until a patent troll goes after Firefox or OpenOffice instead of Microsoft.

  • by Anachragnome ( 1008495 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @02:01AM (#29362411)

    "Apt-get and the open source infrastructure is a heck of an improvement over Microsoft's "Add or remove programs" feature, in my opinion, to say nothing of the dog. Just one example."

    There are always alternatives, it's just that some don't "feel" like MS stuff enough, so they fall by the wayside. I think this is the biggest hurdle that Linux has to leap before it can gain any serious traction on MS. Until it "feels" more like Windows, etc. the vast majority of average users out there won't use it.

    Case in point, your example.

    I use a program called Revo Uninstaller instead of MS's "Add/Remove Application" software. It is far more useful, actually uninstalls things and is free. It runs an application's built in uninstaller, then goes back afterwards and searches for leftover registry entries and files. It then allows you to manually remove them.

    It is so accurate and downright honest about it, I actually use it to test an application for "trustworthyness". I will install an app, then immediately uninstall it with Revo and take note of how much the applications uninstaller left behind. You'd be amazed at how much crap some apps leave behind, most intentionally. Adobe is the worst. I uninstalled one of their apps (reader, I think) and the entire program was still on my hard drive. The Adobe uninstaller straight up fucking lied to me.

    It must work because attempting to uninstall Adobe Flash Player gives you a message that says Adobe refuses to uninstall while Revo is running. Essentially, they want to leave shit on your HD and they KNOW Revo will subvert this.

    Sounds great, right? So why doesn't everyone use it?

    Simple. It doesn't "feel" like the "Add/Remove" app that people are used to. It is hard to convince people that the application they are using doesn't do what they want it to once they have been using it long enough, even if you have the evidence right on the screen in front of them. Some sort of mental block, I suppose. I don't understand it, but I certainly recognize it when I see it.

  • by shawn443 ( 882648 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @02:18AM (#29362499) Homepage
    I think you have a point about it not being homogeneous, perhaps old school culture persists at the chair throwing top and maybe mid level is quietly steering towards a more sensible money making approach.
  • Not so fast. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by miffo.swe ( 547642 ) <<daniel.hedblom> <at> <>> on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @02:18AM (#29362503) Homepage Journal

    "And by allowing the patents to go to AST in the first place, Microsoft may (the article implies) be signaling at least their lack of active intent to disrupt the Linux marketplace."

    Im much more inclined to believe that the intent was some patent troll getting their hands on the patents. They want a new SCO, no doubt.

  • Re:Occam's Razor (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MarkKB ( 845289 ) <> on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @02:44AM (#29362623) Homepage

    As you have noticed, "being paranoid" and "they are out to get you" make two completely different conclusions - in one case you are wasting your time and nerves, in other - you are going to die. Thus, the principle cannot be applied.

    No. Just... no.

    The "being paranoid" theory is that Microsoft is selling the patents because it no longer wants, or wants to maintain, them. The "they're out to get you" theory is that Microsoft wanted to sell the patents to a troll company so it wouldn't look like Microsoft was attacking them. So they held an auction, but the wrong company won. Both theories end with OIN acquiring the patents.

    So, yeah, Occam's razor totally applies. I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to decide which one it corresponds to, however.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @03:03AM (#29362703)

    Remember these words: embrace, extend, and extinguish.
    This is the only politic Microsoft knows, they're following the same modus operandi like in the past, this the only way they conduct their business.
    Take a look at this document

    Taken directly from this document:
    This strategy has three phases: First, Microsoft âoeembracesâ a competing product by developing software or implementing standards that are compatible with the competing product. Microsoft then âoeextendsâ its own offering by creating
    features or standards that are interoperable only with Microsoftâ(TM)s proprietary technologies. Finally, when Microsoftâ(TM)s proprietary software or standards have achieved widespread adoption, Microsoft âoeextinguishesâ its competitors by dropping any remaining pretense of compatibility

    sounds familiar ?

  • by node 3 ( 115640 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @03:10AM (#29362739)

    Eh, Apple's "billions of dollars in the bank" was basically Enron accounting, and that was reflected in the stock price.

    Um, no. It was actual cash on hand.

    The Microsoft "investment" provided a serious boost for Apple in their times of dire need, and there is no need to pathetically try to rewrite history.

    The boost wasn't the cash. It wasn't even, directly, the deal with Microsoft.

    The deal with Microsoft was the result of a change in direction for Apple. At most, it was a "vote of confidence" from MS, especially the commitment to continue to provide MS Office.

    No, the boost was Jobs' redirection of Apple which appeared to be increasingly rudderless at the 90s wore on.

    Unless you are one of those late 90s-era melon-headed downsies mac zealots who actually believed Apple was not in serious financial conditions. In that case a shithouse OS like MacOS 8 is exactly what you deserved.

    Apple wasn't hurting for cash, they were hurting for direction. MS's $150 million had essentially zero direct effect for Apple financially.

  • by jandersen ( 462034 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @03:11AM (#29362745)

    Linux's overlap with Windows is much smaller than its overlap with HP, IBP, and Sun/Oracle.

    This may be a large part of their considerations, although helping your enemy's enemies is a strategy that has backfired many times in the past. Another part of it is likely that they want to be seen as not so much of a threat by the growing crowd of FOSS users; by betting so heavily on the corporate world, Microsoft have managed to push away a large part of the people who are going to be important and influential decision makers in the future: the students, who can't afford to pay for an expensive OS, MS Office, Visual Studio and other applications, but can easily learn how to use Linux. And now they are in the uncomfortable situation that there is a large group of people out there, who are comfortable with Linux, which by now offers a large suite of very mature programs. They have to try to win back the minds and hearts of that group.

    And one shouldn't be blind to the possibility that they are still poised to try to take over Linux, if the chance emerges. Being very permissive with patents is not the same as giving them away; maybe they hope that the patents will be worked into the FOSS code base, and then when the time is ripe they will call in the debts.

  • by ozmanjusri ( 601766 ) <(moc.liamtoh) (ta) (bob_eissua)> on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @03:12AM (#29362753) Journal
    Why isn't there a "-1 Irrational Bashing" mod?

    Same reason there isn't a "-1 Ad-Hominem" mod.
    Slashdot ran out of 'em within a week of opening.

  • by symbolset ( 646467 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @05:27AM (#29363383) Journal

    There are always alternatives, it's just that some don't "feel" like MS stuff enough, so they fall by the wayside.

    I'm not a patent lawyer but I should think an "Add/remove" programs feature that actually adds programs is sufficiently innovative in the Windows world to merit patent protection.

  • by Anachragnome ( 1008495 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @05:50AM (#29363483)

    I understand how installing apps on Linux works.

    My point is that it is different from how it is done on Windows and that the "feel" of this difference is what drives typical Windows users away from Linux, among other differences.

    Fear of the unknown, maybe, or maybe something like putting on somebody else's underwear. It just don't feel right, so they don't do it.

    Humans are creatures of habit, and Linux developers need to take that into account.

  • by viralMeme ( 1461143 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @06:31AM (#29363669)
    You may notice that Microsoft never offered the patents to OIN or anyone directly involved in developing Linux, but instead sold them in a private auction. If one didn't suspect Microsoft of being evil, one would suspect them of releasing the patents to third parties, in the hope that they would engage in patent litigation. Is there a precedent for MS funneling finance to companies who go on to sue people for using Linux?
  • by makomk ( 752139 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @09:15AM (#29364685) Journal

    This possibility is why Mono is dangerous, and why Microsoft's promise not to sue is worthless. Since the promise not to sue is not a patent license, it doesn't bind any future purchasers of Microsoft's patents on .Net.

    All Microsoft has to do is sell a couple of their more critical patents to patent trolls, after first granting themselves and all the Microsoft .Net users a suitable non-revokable license to them. *BANG*! No more Mono, and all the apps written for it become illegal to run in the US - unless you run them on Microsoft .Net. This is perfectly safe for Microsoft since they and their customers are protected by the patent licenses.

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"