Itís no secret that Microsoft has been unhappy with the open source software movement for a long time. Ever since Eric Raymond posted the first Halloween document in 1988, itís been clear that the software giant considers such software a threat to its monopoly. Microsoftís latest salvo claims that open source software violates 235 of its patents.
The claim was first made in Fortune. The magazine interviewed Brad Smith, a Microsoft lawyer. He claims that the Linux kernel violates 42 Microsoft patents, and its user interface and other elements violate an additional 65 patents. OpenOffice supposedly violates 45 patents, and other open source software infringes 82 more.
Does this mean that Microsoft is preparing to fight open source software in the courtroom? One has to wonder. It doesn't seem as if this would be the most intelligent move for the company. It isn't that it would pit Microsoft against the likes of Richard Stallman and Eric Raymond; rather, it would pit the software company against IBM, Dell, Sun, HP, Oracle, and other companies that directly support Linux-related work. For that matter, many Google engineers are involved in creating open source software during their "20% time."
Microsoft might also find itself making some strange enemies, alienating firms they can ill afford to lose. It has been estimated that more than half of the companies in the Fortune 500 use the Linux operating system in their data centers. With open source software's reputation for being high-quality, customizable, and more crash-resistant than certain proprietary software, this is understandable. But these are often the same companies that run Microsoft's operating system and Office suite on all the computers at company headquarters and in the branch offices. Is Microsoft simply hoping that the Fortune article will scare them into using proprietary software? Or is something more subtle going on here?
Microsoft's rights might not be as clear-cut at it is trying to imply. And the fact of the matter is, the laws pertaining to intellectual property rights surrounding software, open source or otherwise, are very complicated. Some aspects fall under copyright law, while others fall under patent law - and the requirements for obtaining a copyright versus obtaining a patent are as different as night and day. In this article, I plan to examine some of these issues and others in an effort to shed some light on the landscape.