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No IP Protection Deals for Ubuntu Linux

Some Linux vendors haven't been as quick to secure deals with Microsoft that protect them from legal action relating to claims that open source software violates Microsoft patents.

Linux vendors recently have been running, not walking, to secure deals with Microsoft that protect them, and users of their products, from any legal action relating to claims that open source software (OSS) violates Microsoft patents. But not everyone is hot to join the crowd.

Mark Shuttleworth, founder of the Ubuntu distribution of Linux, stated on his blog that Ubuntu won't be joining Novell, Xandros, Linspire and other companies that have signed pacts with Microsoft in recent months.

"We have declined to discuss any agreement with Microsoft under the threat of unspecified patent infringements," Shuttleworth stated on the blog.

"A promise by Microsoft not to sue for infringement of unspecified patents has no value at all and is not worth paying for," Shuttleworth wrote in the strongly stated opinion.

The deals have all had cross-patent agreements in place as well, in an attempt to increase interoperability between Linux and Windows, but the indemnification against patent infringement lawsuits is believed to be at the heart of the agreements.

The Novell handshake happened last November, but the pace of deals accelerated substantially following Microsoft's announcement in a Fortune magazine article in May that OSS, especially Linux and Office competitor OpenOffice, had violated some 235 Microsoft patents. Microsoft said at the time that it sought royalties for use of its code, rather than taking alleged violators to court. Microsoft officials have not ruled out lawsuits, however, and Shuttleworth is skeptical that the deals signed by the Linux vendors will protect them anyway.

"It does not protect users from the real risk of a patent suit from a pure-IP-holder (Microsoft itself is regularly found to violate such patents and regularly settles such suits). People who pay protection money for that promise are likely living in a false sense of security," he wrote.

Ubuntu is a growing Linux distribution, and recently got a significant boost in its fortunes when Dell announced that it would use Ubuntu on its Linux-based desktops and laptops.

Shuttleworth claims he's not inherently anti-Microsoft. He writes, "I have no objections to working with Microsoft in ways that further the cause of free software, and I don’t rule out any collaboration with them, in the event that they adopt a position of constructive engagement with the free software community."

At the same time, though, he thinks the current trend among some Linux companies of settling under the threat of a lawsuit are not worth the price paid. "All the deals announced so far strike me as 'trinkets in exchange for air kisses.' Mua mua. No thanks."

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Virtualization Review.

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