'I can't believe that!' said Alice . 'Can't you?' the Queen said in a pitying tone. 'Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.' Alice laughed. 'There's no use trying,' she said. 'One can't believe impossible things.' 'I dare say you haven't had much practice,' said the Queen. 'When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.'
But that doesn't automatically mean that they should take the statements at face value, and especially when they are so contradictory. For example, what does one make of the fact that Microsoft wants royalties, but doesn't want to sue anyone to get them? And if Microsoft really believes that it has so many patents that are being infringed by Linux, why has it waited so long to assert them? And given the differences between Linux and Windows, why has it never asserted any of its patents against the many other operating systems – including Unix - that have existed over the years, each of which presumably infringed upon some subset (presumably major) of those same patents?
[Microsoft licensing chief Horacio] Gutierrez refuses to identify specific patents or explain how they’re being infringed, lest FOSS advocates start filing challenges to them. But he does break down the total number allegedly violated – 235 – into categories. He says that the Linux kernel – the deepest layer of the free operating system, which interacts most directly with the computer hardware – violates 42 Microsoft patents. The Linux graphical user interfaces – essentially, the way design elements like menus and toolbars are set up – run afoul of another 65, he claims. The Open Office suite of programs, which is analogous to Microsoft Office, infringes 45 more. E-mail programs infringe 15, while other assorted FOSS programs allegedly transgress 68
[R]efine the intellectual property model so that important patents are openly shared in a collaborative environment. Patents owned by Open Invention Network are available royalty-free to any company, institution or individual that agrees not to assert its patents against the Linux System. This enables companies to make significant corporate and capital expenditure investments in Linux — helping to fuel economic growth.
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1. Microsoft has said it won’t sue customers. That’s good, and makes sense. So customers can rest easy.2. Microsoft probably can’t sue many of the companies it needs to worry about most, because existing cross licenses with those companies would prevent it. Note that Microsoft hasn’t said a word about its patents being infringed by AIX or Solaris, for example. These cross licenses would presumably protect Linux distributions offered by the same vendors as well.3. The agreements that Microsoft has already signed with customers and distributors may assign little, if any, value to the patents. It’s possible that the value actually went in the other direction, with Microsoft paying more to get the other party to agree to include public mention of open source patent licensing at all.4. Microsoft is clearly feeling threatened. It’s no coincidence, to my mind, that it has suddenly linked OpenOffice with Linux in this story. Windows and Office provide the lion’s share of Microsoft’s revenues and profits, and it needs to defend them with everything it’s got.5. Within the next week or so, the industry will be treating this as "so what" news. Lots of journalists and bloggers already are.
And then you find that all-powerful Oz (and his patent portfolio) doesn’t look so all powerful, after all.
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