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Good news! Microsoft lets company use Linux

Jul 16, 2009 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 2 views

Melco Holdings, the parent company of Buffalo Inc. and Buffalo Group, has signed a patent covenant deal with Microsoft to receive patent indemnity coverage for Buffalo's Linux-based networked-attached storage (NAS) and router equipment. Melco will pay a “financial consideration” to Microsoft, say the companies.

Buffalo joins a growing list of embedded Linux vendors that have settled with Microsoft over the latter's patent claims. The contents of the agreement were not disclosed, except to say that it covered Linux-based NAS devices and routers. It was not clear what Microsoft patents Buffalo might allegedly have infringed upon.

Buffalo LinkStation
(Click for details)

Buffalo sells a variety of Linux-based NAS devices such as the PowerPC-based LinkStation and the hackable Kurobox Pro. It also sells wireless routers that use its AirStation One-Touch Secure System (AOSS) software. The company says it is a global Microsoft partner, and manufactures a number of Windows-certified PC peripherals. (According to the quote at the end of our story, it sounds as though Buffalo will now focus its future development on Windows-based products.)

Since launching its IP licensing program in December 2003, Microsoft has signed more than 500 licensing agreements, the software giant says. Embedded Linux firms with which the company has entered into patent agreements include LG Electronics, Samsung, Fuji Xerox, Kyocera Mita, Brother International, and most recently and notoriously, TomTom.

In the vast majority of cases when Microsoft has approached vendors of Linux-based technology over patent violations, the companies have chosen to settle. Software firms have signed similar deals, such as the oft-criticized covenant between Novell and Microsoft.

TomTom'd into submission

Open source advocates have long argued that the companies that have entered such agreements are playing into Microsoft's hands and undermining the spirit of the open source movement. Yet, it took the TomTom case to bring the issue to fore, illiciting the most angst, fear, and defiance in the open source community since the Novell pact. 

In part, this is due to the fact that the Dutch vendor of personal navigation device (PND) devices dared to resist Microsoft, resulting in a formal lawsuit against the company by Microsoft. This in turn revealed one of the key sources of the patent conflict: Microsoft's claims over the Linux implementation of the FAT filesystem, for which Redmond claims to own the patent. In the end, however, TomTom, too, was forced to settle.

In response to the TomTom case, open source patent holding company Open Invention Network (OIN) posted three of the eight patents cited in Microsoft's lawsuit for prior art review by the Linux community. The evidence is being compiled to convince the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that the patents are invalid.

Meanwhile, the Linux Foundation's Jim Zemlin has called for a project to devise an alternative to FAT. Yet a less drastic solution may be at hand. Earlier this month, Andrew Tridgell published a patch that could make the Linux implementation of the FAT filesystem impervious to Microsoft patent claims. The patch alters the VFAT code so that it does not generate both short and long filenames, says Tridgell, thereby working around the Microsoft patent language. It was unclear, however, whether the Melco/Buffalo deal was based on FAT patent infringement or some other technology claimed by Microsoft.

Stated David Kaefer, GM of Intellectual Property and Licensing at Microsoft, "Many companies have entered similar agreements with Microsoft covering their Linux-based offerings, something that is a reflection of both Microsoft's decades-long commitment to R&D in the operating system space and the high-quality patent portfolio we've developed through our R&D efforts."

Stated Hajime Nakai, director and member of the board at Buffalo, "While we plan to increasingly adopt Windows Storage Server for our NAS business, we also wanted to ensure that our open source and Linux-embedded devices had the appropriate IP protections. By collaborating with Microsoft on a practical business solution, we are able to provide our customers with the appropriate IP coverage, while also maintaining full compliance with our obligations under the GPLv2."


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