Opening shots fired in grand patent battle

Microsofts long expected patent offensive against free software has finally begun with a statement published in CNN Money claiming that Free Software infringes 235 Microsoft patents. Unlike previous articles which were not specific there are actual numbers on the number of patents that Microsoft are claiming are infringed by Open Source Software.

Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith says that the Linux kernel 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. The Open Office suite of programs infringes 45 more. E-mail programs infringe 15, while other assorted FOSS programs allegedly transgress 68. Linux begun in 1991, and is based on Unix concepts. If Linux infringes Windows patents the chances are that all the other Unix vendors do as well.

In terms of the GUI or windowing system the likes of Apple and Sun also have systems which use windowing systems, and would also be infringing. Similarly products like Open Office are not in a class by themselves but also have many other similar applications which often predate products like Microsoft Word. The NZOSS is quite familiar with Microsoft's habit of trying to patent things that have obvious prior art, and eagerly await details of the patent numbers and alledged applications that infringe them.

The NZOSS has informed Microsoft that it is willing to address any patent infringements by acting as mediator between open source projects and Microsoft, and has requested details of the patents in question. Microsoft New Zealand has declined to identify the patents. The NZOSS stands ready to address patent infringements in good faith should Microsoft disclose what they may be.

Coverage of the Microsoft statement has now reached the New Zealand Herald and ComputerWorld while there has been comment by Pamela Jones on Groklaw who addressed the real threat Microsoft pose. Linus Torvalds has also weighed into the issue saying "Can you get a list of which ones? Before that, it's just FUD, and there's not a whole lot I can say or do. Is there prior art? Are they trivial and obvious to one skilled in the art? Would we need to work around them? We don't know, because all I've heard so far is just FUD. If MS actually wanted us to not infringe their patents, they'd tell us. Since they don't, that must mean that they actually prefer the FUD."