Author of Linux Patent Study Says Ballmer Got It Wrong

 
 
By Steven Vaughan-Nichols  |  Posted 2004-11-19 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

While Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer cited Dan Ravicher's study as saying that Linux has been found to violate more than 200 software patents, Ravicher says Microsoft is "up to its usual FUD."

When Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said he wasnt really saying that Linux violates more than 200 software patents, Microsoft followed up by saying Ballmer was only citing findings from a controversial study done this summer by OSRM (Open Source Risk Management), a risk-mitigation consultancy. The study claimed that Linux has been found to potentially violate 283 software patents. The author of that report, however, doesnt see things the way Ballmer does at all.

"Microsoft is up to its usual FUD [fear, uncertainty and doubt]," said Dan Ravicher, author of the study Microsoft cites, who is an attorney and executive director of PUBPAT (the Public Patent Foundation).
"Open source faces no more, if not less, legal risk than proprietary software. The market needs to understand that the study Microsoft is citing actually proves the opposite of what they claim it does."

"There is no reason to believe that GNU/Linux has any greater risk of infringing patents than Windows, Unix-based or any other functionally similar operating system. Why? Because patents are infringed by specific structures that accomplish specific functionality," Ravicher said. "Patents dont care how the infringing article is distributed, be it under an open-source license, a proprietary license or not at all. Therefore, if a patent infringes on Linux, it probably also infringes on Unix, Windows, etc.," he said.

It makes no difference whether and how software is distributed, Ravicher said. "The bottom line is theres no reason to believe that Windows, Solaris, AIX or any other functionally similar operating system has any less risk of infringing patents than Linux does."

Click here for a column on why patents are bad for both open-source and proprietary software. "Ballmer makes a very bold statement by saying Linux infringes hundreds of patents," Ravicher said. "That is extremely different than saying Linux potentially infringes X patent, because the requirement to prove infringement is much more difficult than the requirement to simply file a case claiming infringement. As the SCO saga shows, filing a case based on an allegation is one thing; proving the merits of the allegation in court is something completely different."

Speaking Thursday at the Microsoft-sponsored Asian Government Leaders summit in Singapore, Ballmer said, "There was a report out this summer by an open-source group that highlighted that Linux violates over 228 patents. Someday, for all countries that are entering WTO [the World Trade Organization], somebody will come and look for money to pay for the patent rights for that intellectual property. So, the licensing costs are less clear than people think today." In fact, the study said Linux potentially violates 283 software patents, not "over 228" as Ballmer said in his speech. But Ravicher said Ballmer misinterpreted his studys findings. "He misconstrues the point of the OSRM study, which found that Linux potentially, not definitely, infringes 283 untested patents, while not infringing a single court-validated patent." "The point of the study was actually to eliminate the FUD about Linuxs alleged legal problems by attaching a quantifiable measure versus the speculation," he said. "And the number we found, to anyone familiar with this issue, is so average as to be boring; almost any piece of software potentially infringes at least that many patents."

Next Page: "Not a single open-source software program has ever been sued for patent infringement."



 
 
 
 
Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols is editor at large for Ziff Davis Enterprise. Prior to becoming a technology journalist, Vaughan-Nichols worked at NASA and the Department of Defense on numerous major technological projects. Since then, he's focused on covering the technology and business issues that make a real difference to the people in the industry.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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