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Linux Patent Protection Deals Piling Up

Another company has agreed to Microsoft's Linux IP amnesty program, adding to the rapidly growing list of open source vendors seeking protection against possible legal action from Redmond.

Another company has agreed to Microsoft's Linux IP amnesty program, adding to the rapidly growing list of open source vendors seeking protection against possible legal action from Redmond.

The latest vendor is San Diego, Calif.-based Linspire, a developer and distributor of a Linux-based desktop OS. As part of the agreement, Microsoft has agreed to hold Linspire and its users blameless for any patent infringements.

As with other recent deals, this one includes a number of cross-patent agreements in which Linspire will license a number of Microsoft technologies that it will incorporate into its OS.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the deal relates to search. Linspire has agreed to use Microsoft's search engine, Live Search, as the default Web search engine. Microsoft is desperate to increase its share of Web search and the advertising dollars that flow through it. Google is the dominant search engine currently, and is in the midst of a battle royal with Microsoft in a number of areas, including search and office productivity applications.

"Over the years, in an effort to expand choice, we have entered into dozens of agreements with commercial software vendors," Kevin Carmony, chief executive officer at Linspire, said in a press release. "It certainly made sense to collaborate with Microsoft, one of the most important partners in the PC ecosystem."

The deal is being portrayed by both Linspire and Microsoft as being primarily about interoperability, and there is truth to that. After years of railing against the evils of open source software (OSS), Microsoft has come to accept the reality of heterogeneous environments and realized that Linux is here to stay.

But the timing of the deals lends credibility to the suspicions of those, especially in the OSS community, who believe that companies are bowing to Microsoft's wishes out of fear of potential patent violation lawsuits. Microsoft claimed in a Fortune magazine article that OSS -- mostly Linux and the Office competitor OpenOffice -- has violated 235 of its patents.

The claim outraged many in the OSS community, but it seems to have had the opposite reaction among Linux vendors. The Linspire announcement makes the third Linux patent protection deal Microsoft has signed in the past 10 days; the others were with LG Electronics (LGE) and Xandros. The first domino to falls was Novell, last November.

Linspire has already tussled with Microsoft in the legal arena. Linspire was originally known as "Lindows," a name that Microsoft believed infringed on its trademarked "Windows" name. Microsoft sued Lindows in 2001 in the U.S., Europe and Canada. Lindows eventually changed its name to Linspire, and Microsoft settled the case out of court in 2004 by paying Linspire $20 million.

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Virtualization Review.

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