Backlash Against IP Protection Deals Heating Up

For the past several weeks, there has been a rush among some Linux vendors to ink patent protection deals with Microsoft. But that may have spurred a backlash, as other Linux companies are asserting their independence by refusing to go along with what they see as knuckling under to Microsoft's legal threats.

The latest to state its independence is Paris-based Mandriva (formerly Mandrakesoft), which makes a desktop Linux distribution called Mandriva Linux. In a blog entry, CEO Francois Bancilhon made his company's position clear: "We don't believe it is necessary for us to get protection from Microsoft to do our job or to pay protection money to anyone."

Bancilhon also thinks Microsoft's claims that open source software (OSS) -- especially Linux -- violates 235 Microsoft patents is groundless.

"Up to now, there has been absolutely no hard evidence from any of the FUD [fear, uncertainty and doubt] propagators that Linux and open source applications are in breach of any patents. So we think that, as in any democracy, people are innocent unless proven guilty and we can continue working in good faith."

Mandriva's announcement followed closely on the heels of a similar announcement from Ubuntu Linux developer Mark Shuttleworth, who wrote that "A promise by Microsoft not to sue for infringement of unspecified patents has no value at all and is not worth paying for."

Those companies have joined Red Hat Linux, the largest Linux company in the industry, which provided the following statement on its Web site:

"An innovation tax is unthinkable. Free and open source software provide the necessary environment for true innovation. Innovation without fear or threat. Activities that isolate communities or limit upstream adoption will inevitably stifle innovation."

Red Hat's statement came last November in the wake of the original IP protection deal, when Microsoft agreed to indemnify Novell and its users against any patent infringement claims.

The floodgates opened, however, following Microsoft's patent infringement claims. In a short span, protection deals were signed with Linux vendors Xandros and Linspire, and LG Electronics (LGE), which uses Linux in a number of its products.

Interestingly, Bancilhon titled his blog entry, "We will not go to Canossa." The phrase refers to Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV, who made a pilgrimage to the northern Italian city in 1077. He went to Canossa to have his excommunication  lifted by groveling to Pope Gregory VII. It's a common European saying today that means "We will not bow to threats."

About the Author

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