Microsoft Makes Another IP Protection Deal With Linux Company UPDATED

Microsoft continues to collect Linux development and distribution companies under its promise not to sue them for patent infringement. Following on the controversial recent deal with Novell, the company announced Monday at its TechEd conference in Orlando that it has reached a similar agreement with Xandros Inc.

The key part of the deal is that users of Xandros Linux products are assured of protection against any patent infringement noise Microsoft might make in the coming months or years.

In addition to the IP issues, Microsoft and Xandros announced agreements on a number of interoperability issues, including server and systems management interoperability and Office document compatibility. Microsoft will also push the Xandros Server and Desktop products as a preferred Linux distribution, much as it's doing with Novell's Linux distribution, SuSE Linux.

"Customers don't want to be pushed into a corner, they want to have a choice … They don't want to be squeezed by Microsoft or Linux," said Andreas Typaldos, CEO of Xandros.

The Novell agreement was a key factor in this deal, he said. "Given Microsoft's recent announcement to build bridges between Linux and Microsoft, we contacted Microsoft. In the last few months, we put together very broad agreement to deliver products with a high degree of interoperability."

But the IP indemnification is clearly the big news that comes out of the announcement. "Giving customers overall IP assurance, I think it helps everybody," Typaldos said.

David Kaefer, General Manager, Intellectual Property and Licensing for Microsoft, said he believes more Linux companies will be seeking similar deals. "Absolutely. We [Windows and Linux] have a common destiny. They're both important parts of the datacenter." Coining a new phrase, Kaefer added that "We have to find a way to promote coopetition," which he described as cooperation within the framework of competition. "Novell was the first example of that bridge; it's a way for us to make money together."

That bridge, however, has grown increasingly rickety. Last month, Microsoft stirred up a hornet's nest when it claimed in a Fortune magazine article that open-source software, in particular Linux and the Office competitor OpenOffice, violate some 235 Microsoft patents. Linux accounted for 107 of the alleged infringements, and OpenOffice violated 45 patents, according to Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith and Horacio Gutierrez, vice president of intellectual property and licensing.

Without specifically threatening lawsuits, Microsoft said it could be seeking royalties for the alleged patent violations. To that end, Microsoft has been earnestly seeking deals such as the one first signed onto by Novell, and now by Xandros.

Not everyone in the open source community has been as willing to join hands with Microsoft over the patent issue. In one well-known case, a website called Digital Tipping Point began a "Sue Me First, Microsoft" campaign, asking users of Linux to add their name and Linux distribution to a list, daring the Redmond giant to take them to court. In addition, Linux creator Linus Torvalds has stated publicly that "it's certainly a lot more likely that Microsoft violates patents than Linux does."

Microsoft, although pressed on the point, has yet to publicly release details of the alleged violations, and Kaefer said it's not likely to. "We're not going to provide more numbers than we have," he said. Kaefer believes the whole situation has been blown out of proportion. "Really, the focus is being lost," he said.

The patent infringement number was misunderstood, he feels. "We provided context around the IP situation. People don't need to be afraid of it."

Typaldos said his company is not, and that's not what drove the deal. "We're not operating out of fear. The only fear I have is not delivering what [customers] need."

About the Author

Keith Ward is editor of Virtualization Review magazine. You can contact Keith at [email protected].