Last week, Microsoft (MSFT) initiated what can only be described as a rather bizarre public-relations campaign in which they alleged that Linux and Open Office may violate hundreds of the software maker's patents. While some of the mainstream press reported Microsoft's statements as news, many journalists and bloggers keenly identified the most intriguing aspect of this aggressive maneuver: a glimpse of a threatened giant struggling to keep a grasp on its empire. What most people don't realize is that the story really isn't about patents at all—it's about a rational actor trying to protect its privileged position.
Given the high stakes involved, it’s not surprising that Microsoft would take steps to protect its turf. In fact, it makes perfect sense. Let’s face it: If you were making $1 billion a month, what would you do?
That said, we are also rational actors working within an existing system. Touch one member of the Linux community, and you will have to deal with all of us. Microsoft is not the only—perhaps not even the largest—owner of patents in this area. Individual members of the Linux ecosystem have significant patent portfolios. Industry groups, such as the Open Innovation Network and our own legal programs at the Linux Foundation, aggregate our membership’s patents into an arsenal with which to deter predatory patent attacks. With our members’ backing, the Linux Foundation also has created a legal fund to defend developers and users of open-source software against malicious attack. We don’t expect to but, if needed, we will use this fund to defend Linux.
Needless to say, you’ll be hearing more from us in the weeks and months ahead.
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