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Linux Lab defuses Microsoft patent FUD

Nov 18, 2004 — by Rick Lehrbaum — from the LinuxDevices Archive

CEO Steve Ballmer reportedly fired a FUD missile at Microsoft's greatest rival today, suggesting that Linux violates 228 patents. Ballmer's alleged remarks badly misrepresent statements made in August by a Linux startup offering insurance against patent lawsuits. Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) CEO Stuart Cohen prepared a statement in response.

Ballmer made the comments at a meeting of Microsoft's Asian Government Leaders Forum in Singapore.

According to Reuters and CNet, Ballmer stated: “There was a report out this summer by an open-source group that highlighted that Linux violates over 228 patents . . . Someday, for all countries that are entering [the World Trade Organization], somebody will come and look for money to pay for the patent rights for that intellectual property . . . So the licensing costs are less clear than people think today.”

Ballmer may have been referring to a statement made by Open Source Rights Management (OSRM), which in August launched an insurance product to protect Linux users from software patent infringement claims. The OSRM said that before launching its insurance product, it determined Linux's exposure to patent infringement to be “quantifiable and manageable,” at the same time noting that “283 software patents not yet reviewed by the courts could potentially be used to support claims of infringement against Linux.” However, the OSRM stated, Linux is neither more nor less at risk from software patent lawsuits than proprietary software.

Cohen's rebuttal was worded as follows:

At OSDL, we have a lot of confidence in the robustness of Linux around IP, patents, and copyright. Some of the world's largest vendors share our view, and are willing to stand behind Linux to protect their customers, as are we. HP offers its Linux customers indemnification. So do Red Hat and Novell. Both Novell and IBM have publicly promised to use their extensive patent portfolios to protect Linux customers. And, OSDL set up a $10 million legal defense fund for Linux customers [see related story].

With Linux adoption growing three times faster on the server than any other operating system, customers are clearly not intimidated by FUD and are continuing to embrace Linux.

Over the past 18 months, a handful of companies and individuals who are threatened by Linux's success have tried to argue that Linux may infringe others' software patents. We find it interesting that none of those companies or individuals have said which patents Linux may offend. Yet patents are, by their nature, public; inventions must be disclosed in exchange for the rights granted by the PTO. Detractors of Linux on patent grounds should be asked to point to the specific patents that they claim infringe.

More information and details about the OSDL Linux legal defense fund and how to contribute can be found on the OSDL website.

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