16 May 2007 The Software Patent Cold War hots up
The Software Patent Arms Race has been building slowly over the past decade, as more and more organisations build their patent portfolios in reaction to the broken software patent process, threats from patent trolls and as a defence against other organisations with patent portfolios. The threat of mutually assured destruction – “if you sue me I’ll sue you back” – has thus far largely resulted in compromise cross-licensing deals where organisations agree to license each other’s patents.
However there have been moves more recently by Microsoft to un-settle the balance, largely it would seem in response to the growth of Linux and the threat that has to Microsoft’s Windows operating system.
It started when Microsoft claimed that Linux included code which violated over 200 of Microsoft’s own patents, along with strong suggestion that customers running Linux could well be liable for those violations. This threat was intended to force Linux distributors to pay licence fees to Microsoft or risk losing their customers – who would leave Linux to avoid being sued. Apart from one deal with Novell this approach did not get many results for Microsoft and they appear to have now upped the ante.
Could Microsoft be seriously considering suing Fortune 500 companies for patent violations in Linux ? Given that most of those companies are also major Microsoft clients ?