Microsoft gets I-O Data to sign Linux patent-protection license

Does a Japanese maker of network attached storage devices really need protection against U.S. patents?

Microsoft is on a roll with its Linux patent-protection scheme. On Thursday it announced that it has struck an agreement with Japanese company I-O Data in which I-O Data will pay Microsoft an undisclosed sum "that will provide I-O Data's customers with patent coverage for their use of I-O Data's products running Linux and other related open source software."

I'm finding all of this to be really ridiculous at this point and am doubtful that the licensing agreement between Microsoft and I-O (or Amazon, or even Panasonic) to be about Linux patent protection at all. Although I have absolutely no evidence of this, my guess is that these companies are really paying Microsoft some sort of fees for legit business reasons, Microsoft is throwing in the "Linux patent protection" clause into the deal and then announcing that portion of the deal to the world.

But Microsoft has already legitimized Linux by submitting Hyper-V drivers to the kernel, under the GPL. Microsoft, you can't have it both ways. You can't say that a product is illegally violating your rights and, at the same time, participate in the development of the product. I'm not a legal expert, but there are plenty of brilliant ones on both sides of this, and methinks that any real attempt by Microsoft to make good on its threats of lawsuits would end in a stalemate.

This patent agreements apply to I-O Data's network-attached storage devices and its routers, which run Linux.  What strikes me as particularly odd is that this is a Japanese company -- does it need protection from lawsuits stemming from U.S. patents? Of course, that's not who Microsoft is threatening -- Microsoft is saying that this is patent protection against the company's customers. Again, admitting that my knowledge of the law is nonexistent, I still can't help seriously wondering if such a lawsuit could really hold up. If you buy a product, and then the maker of that product is sued for patent violations, the user of the product hasn't violated any laws. What would be the grounds for the suit?

Indeed, the threat isn't really that Microsoft would win, but that it would be willing to run up a boatload of legal fees for everyone involved. Easier for a company to just let Microsoft include the patent-protection scheme language in a business deal. It's all so mafia-esq to me.

To add fodder to my argument that Microsoft isn't really getting companies to pay it for Linux patent protection per se, is this statement from Microsoft on the deal.

"This patent agreement is an extension of the strong relationship between Microsoft and I-O Data in both the consumer and enterprise markets. The companies recently worked together on a Windows 7 marketing campaign, and I-O Data released one of the industry's first Windows 7 API-based sensors, which automatically detects when a person enters or leaves an office or room."

Well, I suppose it doesn't hurt to agree not to sue your business partners. But I contend that users of Linux products have nothing real to fear from the Big Bad Wolf.

Posted by Julie Bort

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