Ballmer Sets Off Skirmish Among Linux Crowd

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer kicked off a mini-brouhaha today with a comment he made at the Asia Government Leaders Forum about a controversial Linux study.

The study, from Open Source Risk Management, which aims to sell insurance policies and “risk mitigation consulting” services to users of Linux, claimed that the open-source operating system infringes 283 issued but not validated patents, 27 of them belonging to Microsoft.

Ballmer’s Words

Ballmer told Asian leaders, “Someday, for all countries that are entering the WTO (World Trade Organization), somebody will come and look for money owing to the rights for that intellectual property.”

A Microsoft spokesperson said that statement was not intended to be construed as a belief held by Ballmer that Linux really does infringe on all those patents. Rather, it was more of a warning to Linux users and potential users.

“It wasn’t in the context or perspective of ‘Microsoft saying this,’ but rather, ‘Here’s what the industry is saying and it is a factor to consider,'” the spokesperson said.

Microsoft is certainly no fan of Linux.

Bee in Their Bonnet

“What really irks them is that they believe a lot of the stuff that allows Linux to interoperate with Windows is their own intellectual property. Whether it’s true or not is another question,” TechNewsWorld columnist and IT analyst Rob Enderle said.

“The problem they’re up against is that if they know the code is infringing and they don’t enforce it, they lose the code. You have to protect your intellectual property,” he said. “If you don’t protect it, it falls into the public domain.”

Software developer SCO Group is suing IBM and others, claiming Linux infringes on its Unix patents. It is the only company to file a patent infringement suit against a Linux user or company.

Linux Vendors Respond

Several Linux solutions companies responded to Ballmer’s statement, calling it another attempt by Microsoft to discredit Linux.

“The intellectual property risks associated with open-source software are really no greater than those with proprietary software and so far, nobody has filed any patent claims against open source,” said Novell spokesperson Bruce Lowry.

“Novell provides indemnity protection against legal action for our customers and we are committed to using our own patent portfolio to protect our open source software offerings,” Lowry added.

Novell offers Linux products and solutions and owns SuSE Linux and Ximian.

Standing by Rights

The Open Source Development Labs also responded late in the day, saying the organization has a great deal of confidence in the “robustness of Linux around IP, patents and copyright.”

Stuart Cohen, CEO of OSDL, said, “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 IBMhave publicly promised to use their extensive patent portfolios to protect Linux customers.”

Cohen continued, “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.”

Leave a Comment

Please sign in to post or reply to a comment. New users create a free account.

LinuxInsider Channels