Will Former Microsoft Patents Help Protect Linux?

 
 
By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2009-09-08 Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A group of companies that banded together in the name of defending Linux is in talks to acquire a set of patents formerly owned by Microsoft. The patents could potentially be used to beat back claims of Linux violating Microsoft's own patents.

A group of companies that banded together in the name of defending Linux is in talks to acquire a set of patents formerly owned by Microsoft. The patents could potentially be used to beat back claims of Linux violating Microsoft's own patents.

According to a Wall Street Journal report, a group of companies known as the Open Invention Network, which represents industry leaders such as IBM, Red Hat, Novell, NEC, Philips and Sony, is nearing an agreement to acquire 22 patents formerly held by Microsoft. Microsoft sold the patents, which were part of an intellectual property/patent licensing deal between Microsoft and Silicon Graphics, to a third-party company known as Allied Security Trust.

AST, whose members include Cisco, Hewlett-Packard and Verizon, is a patent broker, which, as the WSJ reports, "buys patents to protect its members from patent litigation, provides them with licenses to the technology, and then resells the patents on the open market."

It is AST that OIN is negotiating to acquire the 22 patents from, and a deal is expected to be completed during the week of Sept. 7.

Much of the hullabaloo over patents stems from Microsoft saber rattling in recent years over possible violation of its patents by Linux. OIN was founded with the sole purpose of promoting and defending Linux. A description of OIN on its Website reads:

"Open Invention Network is an intellectual property company that was formed to promote Linux by using patents to create a collaborative environment. It promotes a positive, fertile ecosystem for Linux, which in turn drives innovation and choice in the global marketplace. This helps ensure the continuation of innovation that has benefited software vendors, customers, emerging markets and investors."

Meanwhile, despite earlier saber rattling, Microsoft has made many overtures toward the Linux and open-source communities. For example, in July, Microsoft announced that the company had submitted 20,000 lines of device driver code to the Linux kernel. And the software giant continues to make nice with Linux and open-source companies. Yet, Microsoft also has vowed to continue to compete with Linux and open source, and to protect its intellectual property as well. Thus, earlier in the year, Microsoft filed suit against TomTom for allegedly violating Microsoft patents related to Linux. That case was settled out of court.

Microsoft's track record of both supporting and competing with Linux and open source begs the question: Why would Microsoft so willingly part with 22 patents that could be used to defend Linux against claims of violation of Microsoft's own patents intellectual property rights?

According to the WSJ, Dave Kaefer, general manager for intellectual-property licensing at Microsoft, has a reason for that. The WSJ article said:

"Mr. Kaefer said the patents, acquired from Silicon Graphics, were sold because they weren't strategic to the company. 'They weren't important to our business going forward,' he said."

Hopefully OIN will be able to shed more light on its reasons for seeking these patents-which AST acquired in a Microsoft private auction-should the organizations reach a deal.


 
 
 
 
Darryl K. Taft covers the development tools and developer-related issues beat from his office in Baltimore. He has more than 10 years of experience in the business and is always looking for the next scoop. Taft is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and was named 'one of the most active middleware reporters in the world' by The Middleware Co. He also has his own card in the 'Who's Who in Enterprise Java' deck.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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