Microsoft Patent Threat Against Linux Futile, Risky

by , 3:10 PM EDT, May 16th, 2007

Microsoft's recent claim that the Linux OS may violate Microsoft patents is a sign that Microsoft is running out of ideas, according to ITWire on Wednesday. The tactic will be futile due to the nature of Linux, and could even pose a risk for those patents.

Microsoft, if it's serious about its threats concerning Linux and Microsoft patents, will face an uphill battle, much as SCO did before, Stan Beer observed.

Steven D'Aprano, operations manager for Windows-Linux integration consultant Cybersource explained, "Until Microsoft start[s] to actually point at particular bits that they claim are in patent violation then talk is cheap."

Moreover, if Microsoft wants to pursue its claim, it will have a hard time figuring out who to sue. There's no specific company for them to go after. On top of that that, if Microsoft does point to specific, offending code for which it has a patent, the code is simply removed from the next version of Linux, long before the case can go to court. This is assuming the patents are actually valid.

"One of the things that may come out of this is that making a patent case is actually quite dangerous. The US Patent Office is notorious for handing over very weak patents and if it actually goes to court often the patent can be overturned," D'Aprano warned. "The sort of things that Microsoft might hold patents for which concern the Linux kernel could be like techniques for managing memory. A lot of the software patents that have been granted are extremely general and obvious to anyone that's been working in the industry. The patent system works well for specific innovations but they've been granted for things that are very general and not innovations at all which is very worrying." Potentially worrying for Microsoft, that is.

All this posturing by Microsoft is likely not about patents. It's likely about Microsoft's continuing concern about the penetration of Linux in the enterprise. If they can create some fear, perhaps they can scare away some Linux customers.

"An awful lot of customers are going to Microsoft and saying 'we need you to interoperate more easily with our Linux server.' They're thinking if they've got one Linux server, then how long is Microsoft going to keep the Windows servers there," Mr. D'Aprano said. "People are thinking about paying thousands of dollars to migrate to Vista with the costs of retraining, software licenses, hardware updates being incredibly significant. This explains why there's been so little interest in upgrading to Vista."

This time around, however, with the understanding customers have gained from the SCO debacle, no one seems particularly worried. It's just business as usual at Microsoft.