Microsoft about to enter into patent war?

Fortune Magazine has an in-depth article about Microsoft and its claim that free software infringes on 235 of its patents. I don’t know where the truth lies, but Microsoft has more than 800 lawyers and it looks like they are going to make sure that they remain relevant through legal action. This has deep implications for a whole sector of our economy because there are lots of companies that rely on free software (Google being the mindshare leader that I can think of, but most of the startups I interview use LAMP, Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP, to build their companies).

Microsoft up to this point has used patents defensively (i.e., only if sued themselves) but the gestures that the leadership is sending to the marketplace lately is that they are about to enter into a more offensive phase of using patents.

UPDATE: TechMeme has a lot more reactions on this issue.

147 thoughts on “Microsoft about to enter into patent war?

  1. @50:

    You say that like OSS is the only ones doing this. I know you say there’s a reason why OSS hasn’t been sued before, but how many times has MS been sued successfully for patent infringement? I don’t know the exact number, but it’s more than 0!

    The biggest problem here is that you’re right, products are patented up the wazoo, but it’s not because they’re innovative by any means.

    Just recently MS added a feature to Visual Studio that has existed in another IDE called BlueJ since the mid 90s. Then, they patented it( http://www.bluej.org/mrt/?p=21 ).

    The patent office has no idea what’s innovative and what isn’t. A guy just the other day got a patent for what is essentially a doubly-linked list. I think I learned that in second semester university!

    There are even attempts to change the patent system to “not first to create but first to patent”. That is to say, you could do something really innovative and purposefully not patent it so the world can use it freely… then I could patent it and then sue you.

    The problem is that the entire patent system (especially when it comes to software) is broken.

    Microsoft are just as bad as OSS when it comes to stealing ideas, so don’t imply that it’s all one sided ‘stealing’.

  2. In the light of the infringement claim, I would like to highlight a quote from BillG to Steve Jobs.

    “Well, Steve, I think there’s more than one way of looking at it. I think it’s more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it.” (full article please see the link)

    Had Xerox suited MS, BillG wouldn’t be the richest person in the world. So… for those Softies reading this, please revive the corporate conscience and stop the madness.

  3. In the light of the infringement claim, I would like to highlight a quote from BillG to Steve Jobs.

    “Well, Steve, I think there’s more than one way of looking at it. I think it’s more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it.” (full article please see the link)

    Had Xerox suited MS, BillG wouldn’t be the richest person in the world. So… for those Softies reading this, please revive the corporate conscience and stop the madness.

  4. Please get some perspective. And if you love Open Source, go out and help promote it, help establish it as a viable alternative.

    You do realize that this patent threat from Microsoft is attempting to kill that idea, right?

  5. “Sad. It shows how little confidence Ballmer has in his own game. Instead of creating killer products, he now wants to sue everyone else to keep THEM from creating killer products. What a pathetic little jackass he really is.”

    Welch,
    With the current situation, creating a killer product would be useless since OSS devs would clone it and give it away for free, even if it were patented up the wazoo.

    The fact is, OSS devs do violate patents and licenses with impunity. You’re a card-carrying member of the Apple fan club, right? Then let me put this in terms you can relate to. Apple charges users $10 for an MPEG2 plugin for their QuickTime player, as a way to pay the MPEG2 license fee (passing the fee to the consumer). Meanwhile, the VideoLAN devs don’t bother paying the MPEG2 license fee for their VLC media player. So Apple honors the MPEG2 license while VideoLAN does not.

    A huge amount of OSS software violates patents/licenses. They’ve been able to get away with it because it’s not worth the effort to do anything about some guys in their garage. But once big players like IBM, Red Hat, etc, start funding them, shipping their products, and/or making money off of those products, then don’t be surprised if the license and patent holders come knocking on the door. The garage-developer working in his spare time needn’t worry, he’s still too small-fry do deal with (e.g. VideoLAN). But the big guys that make money on license-violating software should pay the royalties due to the patent holders.

  6. “Sad. It shows how little confidence Ballmer has in his own game. Instead of creating killer products, he now wants to sue everyone else to keep THEM from creating killer products. What a pathetic little jackass he really is.”

    Welch,
    With the current situation, creating a killer product would be useless since OSS devs would clone it and give it away for free, even if it were patented up the wazoo.

    The fact is, OSS devs do violate patents and licenses with impunity. You’re a card-carrying member of the Apple fan club, right? Then let me put this in terms you can relate to. Apple charges users $10 for an MPEG2 plugin for their QuickTime player, as a way to pay the MPEG2 license fee (passing the fee to the consumer). Meanwhile, the VideoLAN devs don’t bother paying the MPEG2 license fee for their VLC media player. So Apple honors the MPEG2 license while VideoLAN does not.

    A huge amount of OSS software violates patents/licenses. They’ve been able to get away with it because it’s not worth the effort to do anything about some guys in their garage. But once big players like IBM, Red Hat, etc, start funding them, shipping their products, and/or making money off of those products, then don’t be surprised if the license and patent holders come knocking on the door. The garage-developer working in his spare time needn’t worry, he’s still too small-fry do deal with (e.g. VideoLAN). But the big guys that make money on license-violating software should pay the royalties due to the patent holders.

  7. Please get some perspective. And if you love Open Source, go out and help promote it, help establish it as a viable alternative.

    You do realize that this patent threat from Microsoft is attempting to kill that idea, right?

  8. Hmmm. I read every comment on this thread so far, and there seems to be a hell of a lot of gun jumping going on.

    In every argument about Microsoft and Open Source Software you get these massive extremes of opinion. OSS will kill Microsoft stone dead. Microsoft wants to shaft OSS and stifle innovation.

    Instead of sitting at your computer with your knees jerking, why not get out and prove (to real people, not us geeks) how useful FOSS can be. Convince your pal with a small business to switch to Linux and OpenOffice. Or something like that. Start advocating OSS and people will use it.

    My wife now refuses to use Windows, she’s using Kubuntu with network storage on an MS Server. The more people who use Open Source, the less will fear it and it’ll gain the traction it needs.

    And Microsoft won’t die overnight, if it dies at all. There are plenty of suits and resellers who seek the reassurance of that little multi-coloured flag that says Windows. Plenty of engineers who crave that MCSE for their CV.

    Please get some perspective. And if you love Open Source, go out and help promote it, help establish it as a viable alternative.

  9. Hmmm. I read every comment on this thread so far, and there seems to be a hell of a lot of gun jumping going on.

    In every argument about Microsoft and Open Source Software you get these massive extremes of opinion. OSS will kill Microsoft stone dead. Microsoft wants to shaft OSS and stifle innovation.

    Instead of sitting at your computer with your knees jerking, why not get out and prove (to real people, not us geeks) how useful FOSS can be. Convince your pal with a small business to switch to Linux and OpenOffice. Or something like that. Start advocating OSS and people will use it.

    My wife now refuses to use Windows, she’s using Kubuntu with network storage on an MS Server. The more people who use Open Source, the less will fear it and it’ll gain the traction it needs.

    And Microsoft won’t die overnight, if it dies at all. There are plenty of suits and resellers who seek the reassurance of that little multi-coloured flag that says Windows. Plenty of engineers who crave that MCSE for their CV.

    Please get some perspective. And if you love Open Source, go out and help promote it, help establish it as a viable alternative.

  10. just read this article from Mary J. Foley over on ZDnet http://blogs.zdnet.com/microsoft/?p=437

    It seems to be an attack on GPL v3 and the FSF.

    It just makes me wonder they want to get into this PR fight with the FSF. Microsoft might be able to use it’s money, but on the other hand the FSF has lots of people who are willing to aid them in a counter offensive. (think about the European offensive against software patents..)

    The one that’s most likely to be overblown by negative PR will be Microsoft. It’s like opening pandora’s box. Countries without software patents will think twice before implementing them.. There will be companies that refuse to pay and wait for the lawsuit.. A counter suit from the OIN could be looming which have a lot more patents on hand to protect Linux..

    just to much stuff that can hurt them. If I would be stock owner, i wouldn’t be really that happy. In the end most lawsuits only hurt the stock price.

  11. just read this article from Mary J. Foley over on ZDnet http://blogs.zdnet.com/microsoft/?p=437

    It seems to be an attack on GPL v3 and the FSF.

    It just makes me wonder they want to get into this PR fight with the FSF. Microsoft might be able to use it’s money, but on the other hand the FSF has lots of people who are willing to aid them in a counter offensive. (think about the European offensive against software patents..)

    The one that’s most likely to be overblown by negative PR will be Microsoft. It’s like opening pandora’s box. Countries without software patents will think twice before implementing them.. There will be companies that refuse to pay and wait for the lawsuit.. A counter suit from the OIN could be looming which have a lot more patents on hand to protect Linux..

    just to much stuff that can hurt them. If I would be stock owner, i wouldn’t be really that happy. In the end most lawsuits only hurt the stock price.

  12. Those who can compete, compete. Those who can’t, litigate. This is the last cry of the mastodon as it sinks into the La Brea tar pits.

  13. Those who can compete, compete. Those who can’t, litigate. This is the last cry of the mastodon as it sinks into the La Brea tar pits.

  14. Lots of people in America have guns, just like lots of big companies have patents that touch each others’ products. LOTS of patents touch Windows and other Microsoft products.

    Even though a lot of people have guns, what purpose would it serve if everybody started shooting each other “because they can”?

    Microsoft in essence is saying, we have a gun with bullets, and now we are detailing who we’d like to kill if only our threats weren’t idol in nature.

    That’s EXACTLY what MS lawyers are doing. They are no different or better than the Iraqi minister of information.

    In a year or so even little me will have 2 patents that could easily sink MS products. The point being that once the big guns start shooting at MS over IP again, the little ones will fire as well, those companies who have no products MS can fire back on with their patents like Eolas. That would be a good thing. It would be enough to bankrupt the company outright.

  15. Lots of people in America have guns, just like lots of big companies have patents that touch each others’ products. LOTS of patents touch Windows and other Microsoft products.

    Even though a lot of people have guns, what purpose would it serve if everybody started shooting each other “because they can”?

    Microsoft in essence is saying, we have a gun with bullets, and now we are detailing who we’d like to kill if only our threats weren’t idol in nature.

    That’s EXACTLY what MS lawyers are doing. They are no different or better than the Iraqi minister of information.

    In a year or so even little me will have 2 patents that could easily sink MS products. The point being that once the big guns start shooting at MS over IP again, the little ones will fire as well, those companies who have no products MS can fire back on with their patents like Eolas. That would be a good thing. It would be enough to bankrupt the company outright.

  16. Patents are gay, the worst patent and one of the most effective ones at the moment is held by MP3 technologies, a patent of a digital file played by a mobile device. So from mobiles phones to iPods are screwed.

    There should be a ban on patents in any industry. In the past, patents were regarded as not necessary however it has now become a real estate issue on owning patents.

    In the future we will look back to today and see how it has affected our civilisation sooo so much. Imagine if a patent was created for wheels and tires, that would have screwed everything up, just like how we are screwing everything up now.

  17. Patents are gay, the worst patent and one of the most effective ones at the moment is held by MP3 technologies, a patent of a digital file played by a mobile device. So from mobiles phones to iPods are screwed.

    There should be a ban on patents in any industry. In the past, patents were regarded as not necessary however it has now become a real estate issue on owning patents.

    In the future we will look back to today and see how it has affected our civilisation sooo so much. Imagine if a patent was created for wheels and tires, that would have screwed everything up, just like how we are screwing everything up now.

  18. Come to think of it, Ballmer’s strategy, although distasteful and disgusting, is brilliant. Drive all FOSS vendors but the ones who will play ball out of business, then force the ones who sign agreements to dance to your tune.

    Eventually, all you have is Windows, and you didn’t have to do any of that silly “innovating” or “product improvement”.

  19. Come to think of it, Ballmer’s strategy, although distasteful and disgusting, is brilliant. Drive all FOSS vendors but the ones who will play ball out of business, then force the ones who sign agreements to dance to your tune.

    Eventually, all you have is Windows, and you didn’t have to do any of that silly “innovating” or “product improvement”.

  20. I’m quite simply amazed. Amazed that MS could be that stupid, that they could so openly say “F*** you” to the developers who support their platform.

    Not when your livelihood revolves around .NET and VS. Microsoft has always worked to lock in its users and developers so that they were unable to use or work with any other platform. That way, when you felt both of ballmers hands on your shoulders, your only option was to brace yourself and say “THANK YOU SIR! MAY I HAVE ANOTHER!”

  21. I’m quite simply amazed. Amazed that MS could be that stupid, that they could so openly say “F*** you” to the developers who support their platform.

    Not when your livelihood revolves around .NET and VS. Microsoft has always worked to lock in its users and developers so that they were unable to use or work with any other platform. That way, when you felt both of ballmers hands on your shoulders, your only option was to brace yourself and say “THANK YOU SIR! MAY I HAVE ANOTHER!”

  22. I’m quite simply amazed. Amazed that MS could be that stupid, that they could so openly say “F*** you” to the developers who support their platform.

    OSS is one of the biggest ways that fresh blood makes names for themselves, and get involved with something big, something real, that will make a difference to actual end users. Trying to kill this, is unbelievably stupid. Developers are the only people who matter for the long-term survival of *any* platform – and developers respect innovation, not strong-arming lawyers.

    I can’t believe what I’m reading. I really cannot believe it. I’m seriously considering changing my career direction over this, and I’m not a fresh college graduate.

  23. I’m quite simply amazed. Amazed that MS could be that stupid, that they could so openly say “F*** you” to the developers who support their platform.

    OSS is one of the biggest ways that fresh blood makes names for themselves, and get involved with something big, something real, that will make a difference to actual end users. Trying to kill this, is unbelievably stupid. Developers are the only people who matter for the long-term survival of *any* platform – and developers respect innovation, not strong-arming lawyers.

    I can’t believe what I’m reading. I really cannot believe it. I’m seriously considering changing my career direction over this, and I’m not a fresh college graduate.

  24. skc: just because it hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean it won’t be done in the future.

    I’ll be happy to interview Ballmer or anyone else in leadership at Microsoft and will put that full interview out without editing it so you can see everything they say. If they have no plans to litigate, they can say that on video and calm everyone down. My phone number is on my blog.

  25. skc: just because it hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean it won’t be done in the future.

    I’ll be happy to interview Ballmer or anyone else in leadership at Microsoft and will put that full interview out without editing it so you can see everything they say. If they have no plans to litigate, they can say that on video and calm everyone down. My phone number is on my blog.

  26. Jake: so far it’s just posturing. The first suit hasn’t been filed yet. Let’s worry — a little bit. But let’s not get ahead of reality either, OK?

    But, I don’t remember saying Microsoft wasn’t going to compete and wasn’t going to take advantage of its patents or other things it has in the market place. Last I looked a patent is still something that our system reveres. A patent basically hands an inventor a monopoly for 17 years. Microsoft wouldn’t be doing its job if it didn’t protect its patent portfolio.

    Now, does it really have proof that its patents have been infringed on? Then it should do what Tim Bray said today: go to court or shut up.

    The gestures that the leadership is sending to the marketplace sure aren’t increasing its PR value, that’s for sure.

  27. Jake: so far it’s just posturing. The first suit hasn’t been filed yet. Let’s worry — a little bit. But let’s not get ahead of reality either, OK?

    But, I don’t remember saying Microsoft wasn’t going to compete and wasn’t going to take advantage of its patents or other things it has in the market place. Last I looked a patent is still something that our system reveres. A patent basically hands an inventor a monopoly for 17 years. Microsoft wouldn’t be doing its job if it didn’t protect its patent portfolio.

    Now, does it really have proof that its patents have been infringed on? Then it should do what Tim Bray said today: go to court or shut up.

    The gestures that the leadership is sending to the marketplace sure aren’t increasing its PR value, that’s for sure.

  28. You know all those years you told us Microsoft was different? That they weren’t evil, crazy monopolist hell-bent on squashing innovation in any production competing with them?

    Turns out, you were wrong. :(

    Today, we saw the same old monopolist, just twisted a little — now he’s trying to use the broken US patent system to squeeze money out of big companies and to scare small ones into using Microsoft products.

    If you’re a developer, does this give you the warm fuzzies about developing on top of Silverlight? If you’re a user, doesn’t it make you want to go run out and install Ubuntu? If you care about the future of innovation on the web, do you think Microsoft is helping?

    Ugh. It’s like every paranoid /. kiddie’s fantasy is coming real — I can’t wait to see the headlines the first company Microosft sues for not using an ‘approved’ Linux distro.

  29. You know all those years you told us Microsoft was different? That they weren’t evil, crazy monopolist hell-bent on squashing innovation in any production competing with them?

    Turns out, you were wrong. :(

    Today, we saw the same old monopolist, just twisted a little — now he’s trying to use the broken US patent system to squeeze money out of big companies and to scare small ones into using Microsoft products.

    If you’re a developer, does this give you the warm fuzzies about developing on top of Silverlight? If you’re a user, doesn’t it make you want to go run out and install Ubuntu? If you care about the future of innovation on the web, do you think Microsoft is helping?

    Ugh. It’s like every paranoid /. kiddie’s fantasy is coming real — I can’t wait to see the headlines the first company Microosft sues for not using an ‘approved’ Linux distro.

  30. Wow, you people are wierd. They have no history of suing over patent infringment (I can only think of one case), so umm, why should they start now exactly? Are they struggling for profits? No. Are they losing marketshare in the areas relevant to them? No.

    Think, people, think.

    Ballmer wants another Novell style deal is all.

  31. Wow, you people are wierd. They have no history of suing over patent infringment (I can only think of one case), so umm, why should they start now exactly? Are they struggling for profits? No. Are they losing marketshare in the areas relevant to them? No.

    Think, people, think.

    Ballmer wants another Novell style deal is all.

  32. We will see how this one turns out, on one side we’ve got Microsoft with its patents and on the other side the Open Innovation Network supported by IBM, Philips, Sony, Oracle and some other companies. And they’ve got a patent portfolio which definitely is bigger, and entails some interesting stuff.

    For one side I’m happy when they go along, as it will indefinitely assure that the EU will never get software patents. And i can already see some eyebrows frowning in Neelie Smith Kroes’s office.

    Secondly, they will have to go to their own customers, telling them “hey, you’ve got OSS running, on top of the licence you already pay we want X amount of license for OSS because it infringes on our patents… (I would like to see the faces of some CIO’s and CFO’s when that message comes along, and the decision about implementing Vista is a few days later on there desk..)

    Thirdly, until the patent is validated in court, it’s merely a threat.. And my take is that there will be a lot of prior art.

    Fourth, up until now they’ve been telling us that FOSS isn’t a threat, why go after something that doesn’t pose a threat..

    Fifth, it’s never smart to let lawyers dictate which route you’re company should take…..

    Sixth, it will ensure that a lot of OSS will implement GPL3, and i doubt they will be very happy when that happens.

  33. We will see how this one turns out, on one side we’ve got Microsoft with its patents and on the other side the Open Innovation Network supported by IBM, Philips, Sony, Oracle and some other companies. And they’ve got a patent portfolio which definitely is bigger, and entails some interesting stuff.

    For one side I’m happy when they go along, as it will indefinitely assure that the EU will never get software patents. And i can already see some eyebrows frowning in Neelie Smith Kroes’s office.

    Secondly, they will have to go to their own customers, telling them “hey, you’ve got OSS running, on top of the licence you already pay we want X amount of license for OSS because it infringes on our patents… (I would like to see the faces of some CIO’s and CFO’s when that message comes along, and the decision about implementing Vista is a few days later on there desk..)

    Thirdly, until the patent is validated in court, it’s merely a threat.. And my take is that there will be a lot of prior art.

    Fourth, up until now they’ve been telling us that FOSS isn’t a threat, why go after something that doesn’t pose a threat..

    Fifth, it’s never smart to let lawyers dictate which route you’re company should take…..

    Sixth, it will ensure that a lot of OSS will implement GPL3, and i doubt they will be very happy when that happens.

  34. They are just making noise to show themselves relevant. They just cannot do it because FSF can countersue them and put them through the same “ordeal”. It is a plain case of Microsoft bullshitting in desperation. Probably they think that they can bring down google by attacking the open source software that make up Google’s infrastructure. Well, it is just the desperate whine they are making before they go down.

  35. They are just making noise to show themselves relevant. They just cannot do it because FSF can countersue them and put them through the same “ordeal”. It is a plain case of Microsoft bullshitting in desperation. Probably they think that they can bring down google by attacking the open source software that make up Google’s infrastructure. Well, it is just the desperate whine they are making before they go down.

  36. This would be a huge mistake for MS to make. They may think they’re immune to what the market wants, but Intel found out the hard way when they tried to force RAMBUS down the market’s throat, and look how many billions *that* cost them. The market doesn’t exactly love Vista, either, but they’re still in denial about that as far as I can see. And Digg recently found out the hard way what happens when you try to force things on people they don’t want.

  37. This would be a huge mistake for MS to make. They may think they’re immune to what the market wants, but Intel found out the hard way when they tried to force RAMBUS down the market’s throat, and look how many billions *that* cost them. The market doesn’t exactly love Vista, either, but they’re still in denial about that as far as I can see. And Digg recently found out the hard way what happens when you try to force things on people they don’t want.

  38. Most “patented” software was either directly listed or indirectly described back in 1970 or earlier educational books for Computer Science.
    I agree completely with everyone quoted here — software patents are ridiculous and need to be gotten rid of, ASAP.

  39. Most “patented” software was either directly listed or indirectly described back in 1970 or earlier educational books for Computer Science.
    I agree completely with everyone quoted here — software patents are ridiculous and need to be gotten rid of, ASAP.

  40. From the article: “Microsoft seemingly barred from striking pacts with distributors, only one avenue appears open to it: paying more friendly visits to its Fortune 500 customers, seeking direct licenses.”

    Microsoft – I hope – knows it is not wise to start the patent armageddon using law suits, because there is too much to figure out yet. 235 patents were identified and they are working on strategies to use that knowledge to get IP royalties but it is still a work in progress IMHO.

    Microsoft is starting to understand open source so they are trying to learn by doing but free software is still so difficult to understand for them and this is where they are testing general reactions with this type of interviews.

  41. From the article: “Microsoft seemingly barred from striking pacts with distributors, only one avenue appears open to it: paying more friendly visits to its Fortune 500 customers, seeking direct licenses.”

    Microsoft – I hope – knows it is not wise to start the patent armageddon using law suits, because there is too much to figure out yet. 235 patents were identified and they are working on strategies to use that knowledge to get IP royalties but it is still a work in progress IMHO.

    Microsoft is starting to understand open source so they are trying to learn by doing but free software is still so difficult to understand for them and this is where they are testing general reactions with this type of interviews.

  42. So is Microsoft going to start suing? I seriously, doubt it. They’ve also recently started “loving” open source – look at their Port25 effort.

    That definitely deserves the quotes. Talk about winning the award for meaningless marketing site of the year.

  43. So is Microsoft going to start suing? I seriously, doubt it. They’ve also recently started “loving” open source – look at their Port25 effort.

    That definitely deserves the quotes. Talk about winning the award for meaningless marketing site of the year.

  44. @25

    “So is Microsoft going to start suing?”

    That would be fun to watch. So many disparate patents are out there the touch Windows components it’s not even funny. By the time it’s over Bill Gates will be eligible for emergency relief funding from his own foundation.

    Once the bigger ones starts suing in retaliation, the smaller ones will get bolder like Eolas, and then all hell will break loose.

    It would be the best thing for Linux evAr.

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