Microsoft IP Tax Makes Its Way to Linux-based Gadgets


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[OPINION] There’s a disturbance in the gadget force everyone. You probably aren’t aware of it because most you are Mac or Windows users, but those who’ve been using Linux on the desktop or on servers have known for some time that Microsoft has been bullying Linux software vendors with threats of lawsuits for infringing on their intellectual property (IP). Remedy: sign our “patent agreement” and share your technology in exchange for immunity.

Microsoft claims that most parts of what makes up the GNU/Linux OS infringes on Microsoft’s closed-source patent war-chest. To put it in simple terms, they claim that they came up with X process or X functionality first and they have a patent on that feature. I’m not a IP or patent lawyer, so I can’t get into specifics, but I can tell you that the Free Open Source Software (FOSS) movement prides itself on being open and sharing code with others to be used how one sees fit. And, if you make an improvement, to share that improvement back with the community. FOSS developers like to look at a proprietary app and say, we can make that… and not only can we make it, we’ll make it better through the inspection of thousands of users who will voluntarily test the code, kill bugs, improve upon the feature-set, and so on and so on.

OK, so you now get the gist of FOSS and open-source in general. Well, this week Microsoft has announced that they have come to a “patent agreement” with mobile phone maker HTC for their use of the open-source Android (Linux) OS. What’s more, Microsoft, under the agreement, will collect a royalty on each HTC Android device sold — a deal not even Google gets. I’ll be honest, the news a few months back that Amazon reached a similar “patent agreement” for its in-house built Kindle device, which (guess what?) runs Linux, bothered me quite a bit as well. However, Amazon in retrospect may have gotten a worse deal than HTC to gain immunity from Microsoft’s lawyers. Amazon agreed to share their Kindle and Linux-based server infrastructure IP (guessing that also includes all of Amazon’s popular cloud services), as well as pay Microsoft an “undisclosed amount of money.” Oh, and I just remembered… GPS navigation maker, Tom Tom, settled recently with Microsoft for their Linux-based product as well.

So what does this mean going forward? Microsoft might end up being the biggest profiteer on the backs of consumer electronics makers who’ve chosen to leverage Linux, if their extortion racket is not challenged. The reason I say “extortion racket” is because Microsoft likes to hang their 235 patent violation claim — whose details oddly have not been made publicly available for scrutiny — over anyone who’s implemented Linux on a successful offering. If you can’t beat them with your own products, collect IP violation royalties, right?

Who’s next in Microsoft’s “patent agreement” crosshairs? My guess would be any device maker who uses or plans to use Android, MeeGo, WebOS. So… HP (or may be not), Nokia, Samsung, Acer, Dell, Sony, Lenovo, LG to name a few. Linux-based NAS (Buffalo Inc. was snared in the Summer of ’09), digital media adapter, digital photo frame, and TV makers should probably be concerned as well. Personally, I have mixed feelings on this subject. I enjoy covering and using some of Microsoft’s products, but I also enjoy using Linux-based devices and computers. However, knowing that I’m going to help fund Microsoft’s racket by possibly buying an HTC EVO later this Summer rubs me the wrong way. I hope the HTC, Microsoft agreement catches the attention and deep pockets over at Google to challenge these guys with help from The Linux Foundation and Open Innovation Network.

UPDATE 5/27/11: Microsoft earns $5 for each HTC Android phone sold, says Citi analyst.




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Filed in: Industry Buzz, Software


  • apexwm

    This is crazy. As far as I know, Microsoft's claim on the 235 patent infringement of Linux is bogus. Swift GNU/Linux developers have been able to avoid the infamous FAT filesystem infringement. Hopefully we can also find ways around the thousands of additional patents that Microsoft has a grasp on. I really really hope that software patents are re-evaluated by the Supreme Court very soon. It's in the works, but is taking forever. Software patents have and are doing way too much damage.

  • lunoob

    Good article.