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Microsoft aims Linux patent FUD at devices

Jun 7, 2007 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 1 views

Microsoft and LG Electronics, best known for its DVD players, home theater systems, and cellphones, announced on June 7 that they have entered into a patent cross-license agreement to enable LG to use Microsoft patented technology in its product lines, including in its Linux-based embedded devices.

In turn, Microsoft will have access to LG's patents. Microsoft will also be able to license other LG-developed patents that are now owned by its business solutions provider, the MicroConnect Group, a home and SMB (small to medium-sized business) system integrator. The specific financial terms of the agreement are confidential; however, the parties are disclosing that Microsoft will be making a net balancing payment to LG and MicroConnect for patents related to operating systems and computer systems. For its part, LG will be making ongoing payments to Microsoft for the value of Microsoft patents as they relate to Linux-based embedded devices that LG produces.

In the announcement of the deal, Microsoft included what appears to be its new boiler plate wording about how Microsoft “has focused on patent agreements in the recent past [such as its recent Xandros deal and earlier Novell deal] to develop a best-practices model for protecting intellectual property (IP) and respecting the IP rights of others, as well as building bridges with an array of industry leaders.”

Unlike the more well-known Microsoft/Linux patent partnership deals, however, there is no acknowledgment in this agreement that Linux is in some fashion violating Microsoft's patents. LG is being given the right to use Microsoft patents throughout its product line, and some of that line happens to use Linux. It would be a stretch to say that this agreement, from what we now know, states that Linux already violates Microsoft's patents.

Two months ago, Microsoft lawyer Brad Smith did claim that Linux violates 42 Microsoft patents. However, in SCO-like fashion, Microsoft has not specified which ones are violated, or how. This led Linux creator Linus Torvalds to quip, “If MS actually wanted us to not infringe their patents, they'd tell us. Since they don't, that must mean that they actually prefer the FUD [fear, uncertainty, and doubt].”

Meanwhile, GPLv3, currently in final draft form, contains explicit language aimed at preventing patent pacts of the type Microsoft has been forging. And while it grandfathers in existing pacts, it attempts to extend their benefits to the entire open source community, via poison pill tactics, as Richard Stallman recently explained.

Still, GPLv3's poison pill tactics could only work if the Linux kernel were to adopt GPLv3 — an eventuality that remains in question, albeit less and less so.

Many projects close to Linux — like gcc and glibc — will certainly move to GPLv3. And since GPLv3 and GPLv2 code will not be linkable due to license incompatibilities, kernel developers will certainly face a lot of pressure to make the jump, too.

Nonetheless, aside from the logistical challenges of ascertaining consent from the kernel's legion copyright holders, some GPLv3 additions — like anti-tivoization language, for example — remain controversial. In the device world, vendors are long accustomed to locking software to hardware — a characteristic implicit in the term “embedded” itself.

Microsoft and LG have been partners since 2004. In 2005, the two companies released the LRM-519 Digital Media Recorder. This was a DVR (digital video recorder) and DVD recorder that used Microsoft's software, a version of Windows Media Center, with LG's hardware. While the product line has since been discontinued, both businesses continue to offer support to its customers.

In a statement, Jeong Hwan Lee, executive vice president of the LG Electronics (LGE) Intellectual Property Center, said, “This agreement and our good relationship with Microsoft enable LGE to provide improved telecommunications solutions to our customers. We believe that the license arrangement with Microsoft provides appropriate recognition of the value of LGE's computer system-related patents, which includes patents directed to computer architecture utilized in game consoles and other products. We believe in the importance of respecting the IP rights of others and that patent collaboration and protection is a best business practice the whole industry should be engaged in.”

Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft's VP of IP and licensing, added, “This agreement is another example of how Microsoft is continuing to build bridges with others in the industry through intellectual property licensing.”

by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols and Henry Kingman

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