Is Microsoft Rattling the Linux-Patent Sabers?

The Redmond software maker is denying that CEO Steve Ballmer said Linux violates more than 200 established software patents.

Microsoft Corp. is denying that its CEO Steve Ballmer told Asian government leaders on Thursday that Microsoft believes that Linux violates more than 200 software patents.

Instead, Ballmer was citing a controversial study done earlier this summer by a risk-mitigation consultancy that claimed that Linux has been found to violate more than 200 software patents, according to a Microsoft spokesman.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read a transcript of Ballmers remarks.

"Steve [Ballmer] was speaking at the Asia Government Leaders Forum [in Singapore] and noted the recent OSRM [Open Source Risk Management] report in answer to a question he was asked on Linux and licensing costs," said the Microsoft spokesman. "It wasnt in the context or perspective of Microsoft saying this, but rather Heres what the industry is saying and it is a factor to consider."

A published report claiming that Ballmer said Microsoft believes Linux violates 228 or more software patents created a quite a stir across the Web on Thursday.

According to the story, Ballmer did not go so far as to say Microsoft planned to sue Linux vendors or customers over the alleged violations. However, he did note that "someday, for all countries that are entering the WTO [World Trade Organization], somebody will come and look for money owing to the rights for that intellectual property," according to the report.

In August, OSRM, a provider of open-source consulting and risk mitigation insurance, announced it had unearthed 283 issued, but not yet court-validated, software patents that could conceivably be used in patent claims against Linux. OSRM is planning to begin offering a patent-litigation insurance policy for Linux users and developers in 2005.

Microsoft has not weighed in publicly on whether it has discovered patent violations by open-source vendors involving any of its products. But the Redmond, Wash., software vendor, like a growing number of corporations, is availing itself of a variety of tools for monitoring the source of its own source code, Microsoft officials said.

David Kaefer, Microsofts director of business development for IP and licensing, told Microsoft Watch earlier this month that Microsoft has been creating process controls to ensure that Microsoft knows from where its own code is coming. Microsoft has created a number of tools and is licensing others that will allow the company to make sure that there is no hidden code (open-source or otherwise) in its products that shouldnt be there, Kaefer said.

/zimages/6/28571.gifRead the full story on Microsoft Watch: "Is Microsoft Rattling the Linux-Patent Sabers?"

/zimages/6/28571.gifCheck out eWEEK.coms for Microsoft and Windows news, views and analysis.