Microsoft says free software violates 235 patents

— 1:38 PM on May 14, 2007

After striking Linux-related agreements with several companies, including Novell, Fuji Xerox, and Samsung, Microsoft has now publicly asserted that free, open-source software like Linux violates no fewer than 235 of its patents. CNN Money has relayed an article by Fortune that provides more details and insight into what Microsoft is seeking to do about the alleged infringement. According to Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith, the outline of the patents in question is as follows:

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.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer made his company's plans clear last year when he said Linux users were "taking advantage of Microsoft innovation" and that someone would "eventually have to pay up." But that's more difficult than it sounds.

Smith suggests that lawsuits would get in the way of what Microsoft is trying to accomplish "in terms of [improving] our connections with other companies, the promotion of interoperability, the desires of customers." Microsoft could seek royalties from Linux distributors, but that's something the GNU General Public License explicitly forbids. The Novell deal circumvented that exception by having both companies promise not to sue each other's customers, but that's a loophole the next version of the GPL license will attempt to close. Instead, Microsoft reportedly plans to seek royalties directly from end users, which include large Fortune 500 companies.

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