Is Microsoft Taking Legal Aim at Linux?

By Steven Vaughan-Nichols  |  Posted 2004-11-12

Is Microsoft Taking Legal Aim at Linux?

If you cant beat them, sue them? Is that what Microsoft is thinking these days when it comes to slowing down Linux and open source?

Earlier this month, I reported that people were concerned that Microsoft might be trying to retroactively claim IP (intellectual property) rights over many of the Internets basic protocols. The lawyers I spoke with told me they certainly didnt like the looks of Microsofts Royalty Free Protocol License Agreement.

Then a few days later, Microsoft declared that it was extending its IP protection policy to cover all customers using current and earlier versions of its programs, with the exception of XP embedded and Windows CE. Microsofts large volume licensing customers have always had this protection, but I really hadnt seen anyone demanding it.

Thats because people havent needed it. Microsoft has been sued dozens of time for IP violations. Heck, here at, we have a special report just for Microsoft trials. But users have never had to pay for these cases… directly. Instead, Microsoft simply keeps its software prices moving ever upward.

On the other side, while theres a lot of concern about Linux and open-source IP violations, except for the going-nowhere-fast SCO cases, no cases have been filed.

Im not saying that theres no reason to be concerned. You should be. I am saying that, based on the track record, proprietary software, not open-source software, has been the one tarred with IP suits.

But, whats this? On Microsofts anti-Linux propaganda site, Get the Facts, we find an independent (cough, cough) research paper titled "Indemnification Becomes Open Sources Nightmare and Microsofts Blessing." Its premise? "The necessity of having to purchase outside indemnification for Linux could negate the perceived savings of the so-called free Linux licenses over Microsofts proprietary Windows."

Can you say "setup?" I knew you could.

Next Page: Helping to fuel SCOs anti-Linux lawsuits.


-Linux Lawsuits"> I believe that Microsoft is getting ready to use its IP holdings to attack open source and Linux in the courts. It may not happen anytime soon, but as Linuxs market share continues to climb, I know that Microsofts attorneys must be thinking about where they can attack open source.

After all, Microsoft has already done it indirectly. First by helping to fuel SCOs anti-Linux lawsuits by licensing $21 million of Unix IP, and then by leading BayStar to SCO, which lead the contentious Unix firm to getting an addition $50 million in funding.

Of course, I think the SCO cases are going nowhere fast. If theres anyone out there whos still frightened of buying Linux because of SCO, I dont know who it could be.

So, heres what I see happening. First, Microsoft is launching a new FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) campaign, with indemnification at its heart.

Second, look at what Microsoft has been doing recently in its court cases. Microsoft has been settling a lot of its ongoing litigation. Long-running battles with Sun, Novell and the CCIA (Computer & Communications Industry Association) have all been cleared up in recent months. Could Microsoft be clearing the decks for a massive legal battle against Linux? Stay tuned, folks. Senior Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been using and writing about operating systems since the late 80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way.

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.

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