Shuttleworth: Microsoft Does Not Want War

At OSCON, Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical, says he doubts Microsoft would file a claim against Linux developers.

PORTLAND, Ore.-Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Canonical, which maintains the Ubuntu desktop Linux distribution, said he doubts Microsoft would file a suit against a free software developer unless the software giant wants "war."

At the end of a session at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention here on July 24, where Shuttleworth discussed the emerging practice of mixing agile development methods with community development efforts, Shuttleworth responded to a question about the possibility of Microsoft making patent claims against open-source code by saying: "I don't believe Microsoft will file suit against free software developers. It would be tantamount to declaring nuclear war. ... And I can afford it."

Shuttleworth was responding to a question about how developers could protect themselves against patent and intellectual property issues when it comes to contributing code to open-source projects. He initially said, "GPL V3 is a good solution ..." But pressed on the threat regarding Microsoft, Shuttleworth said he does not think the software giant would pursue a claim.

In essence, Shuttleworth said, Canonical has copyright assignment agreements with developers. "In order for us to be nice enough to accept your code, you have to ensure us that there are no problems with it," he said. Shuttleworth, upon further questioning, indicated that the GPL3 would provide protection against legal claims.

Shuttleworth did say open-source and free software developers need to be extra careful because "[patent] trolls are going to be a problem; they're already starting."

Also at OSCON on July 24, Keith Bergelt, CEO of the Open Invention Network, spoke on the danger of patents and how they can be used against free software developers.

"Patents can either enable or retard open source and Linux," Bergelt said.

However, OIN "exists to enable the community to grow and for patents to have a minimal effect" on it.

Added Bergelt: "What we do is acquire patents and license them back to the community."

For the future, Bergelt said open-source developers should focus on "defensive publications" to protect the community from patent claims. "'Intellectual property' is not a dirty word," he said. "There are many ways to codify IP, and defensive publications are one way."

Bergelt said OIN is not alone in its effort to "minimize the importance of patents." He cited the Linux Foundation and the Software Freedom Law Center as two other organizations working on the issue.