Microsoft claims Linux violates 235 patents

Fortune magazine this morning has an explosive account of Microsoft's contention that free software distributions violate at least 235 of the company's patents - the first time Redmond has attached an actual number to this contention.

(Update 3: Hmmmm, seems that business about it being the first time isn't exactly accurate ... as in it's absolutely wrong. The BBC had a number pegged -- 228 patents -- back in November 2004. Wired caught that one.)

From the Fortune article:

Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith and licensing chief Horacio Gutierrez sat down with Fortune recently to map out their strategy for getting FOSS users to pay royalties. Revealing the precise figure for the first time, they state that FOSS infringes on no fewer than 235 Microsoft patents.

It's a breathtaking number. (By comparison, for instance, Verizon's (Charts, Fortune 500) patent suit against Vonage (Charts), which now threatens to bankrupt the latter, was based on just seven patents, of which only three were found to be infringing.) "This is not a case of some accidental, unknowing infringement," Gutierrez asserts. "There is an overwhelming number of patents being infringed."

The tenor of the article paints a picture of an industry inching ever closer to patent Armageddon. Says attorney Eben Moglen, legal counsel to the Free Software Foundation:

"It's a tinderbox," Moglen says. "As the commercial confrontation between [free software] and software-that's-a-product becomes more fierce, patent law's going to be the terrain on which a big piece of the war's going to be fought. Waterloo is here somewhere."

Needless to say, there's much yapping about the story on tech sites this morning, including at Slashdot and Reddit.

(Update: Larry Augustin, who's been putting his money behind open source, says it's time for Microsoft to do the same relative to these patent claims: "I take offense at the notion that anyone in the Open Source world is willfully violating a Microsoft patent, particularly since Microsoft refuses to disclose any potential violations.")

(Update 2: Headlines from other blogs predictable: "How to know Microsoft hates open source" … "Microsoft plays dirty pool again" … "Say good-bye to my money, Microsoft, and, the voice of minimalism, "Oh, please.")

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