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Torvalds: Microsoft is bluffing on patents

By Chris Kanaracus, IDG News Service
February 04, 2008 12:10 AM ET

IDG News Service - Microsoft's aggressive defense of its intellectual property, which includes claims that Linux violates a number of its patents, is nothing more than "a marketing thing," according to Linus Torvalds, creator of the Linux kernel.

"They have been sued for patents by other people, but I don't think they've -- not that I've gone through any huge amount of law cases -- but I don't think they've generally used patents as a weapon," Torvalds said. "But they're perfectly happy to use anything at all as fear, uncertainty and doubt in the marketplace, and patents is just one thing where they say, 'Hey, isn't this convenient? We can use this as a PR force.'"

Torvalds made the comments during the second half of an interview conducted by the Linux Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin on Oct. 16. The foundation is expected to make the rest of the interview publicly available on its Web site Monday. The foundation released the initial portion of the interview in January.

"Another reason why I don't think Microsoft really seriously would go after patents is when you're a convicted monopolist in the marketplace you really should not be suing your competitors over patents," Torvalds continued. "I think that most Microsoft lawyers would say, 'You know, let's not do that; that sounds insane'."

Microsoft's recent work around improving its platform's interoperability with Linux left Torvalds largely unmoved.

"I think there are people inside Microsoft who really want to improve interoperability and I also think there are people inside Microsoft who would much rather just try to stab their competition in the back," he said. "I think the latter class of people have usually been the one[s] who won out in the end, but -- so I wouldn't exactly trust them."

Microsoft spokespeople on Friday declined to comment on Torvalds' remarks. The company has said it believes that Linux infringes on its intellectual property, although it has been criticized for not being more precise with its allegations.

Torvalds is instead focused on improving Linux, he said. "I work weekdays, I work weekends, I work 52 weeks a year. I don't want there to be any question of who's the best maintainer," he said. "And at the same time, I actually also do want to encourage competition. ... So, I actually enjoy seeing all these other kernel trees happening. All the vendors have their own."

However, the Linux kernel community overall could be more welcoming to new ideas, he suggested. "One of the problems is we have people who have such high criteria for what is acceptable or not that it scares away people who want to do new code and do new experiments," he said. "We mustn't set the bar that high. New code, new drivers, there will be problems and I'd rather take them and then improve them."

Even as Linux matures as a technology, it has yet to make a major impact in the mainstream desktop market. "It's really hard to enter the desktop market because people are used to whatever they used before, mostly Windows ... There's just this huge inertia in that market," he said.

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