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Microsoft patent deal covers Linux printers

Feb 5, 2009 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — views

Microsoft and Brother Industries have entered into a broad patent cross-licensing agreement that enables access to each company's respective patent portfolio, including Brother's embedded Linux printing products. Aimed at boosting R&D efforts, the agreement includes compensation paid to Microsoft by Brother, say the companies.

In the agreement, Brother Industries gains access to Microsoft's patents for Brother's current and future products. These products include multifunction products (MFPs), printers, and “certain Linux-based embedded devices,” say the companies. Meanwhile, Microsoft will gain access to Brother's patents for Microsoft's current and future products, including Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Office, and other IT products.

The deal is similar to the much criticized (in the open source Linux community at least) covenant between Novell and Microsoft, as well as other cross-patent deals regarding Linux technology, with vendors such as LG Electronics.

Since launching its IP licensing program in December 2003, Microsoft has signed more than 500 licensing agreements, says the company. Other agreements regarding printing technology include deals with HP, Samsung, Fuji Xerox, Seiko Epson, and Kyocera Mita, says Microsoft. Many of these firms offer printers based on embedded Linux technology. In recent years, Linux has proven especially popular in large, networked, high-speed office printers, according to MontaVista and Wind River, two embedded Linux vendors that claim significant customer wins in the category.

However, if Linux impinges any Microsoft patents, the Redmond Giant has not come out and said so. Instead, Microsoft officials from time to time allude to possible patent infringements, presumably to create “fear, uncertainty, and doubt” (FUD) about its open source competitor.

For example, in 2007, Microsoft lawyer Brad Smith asserted that Linux violates 42 Microsoft patents. However, in SCO-like fashion, the lawyer did not say which ones were actually violated. 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].”

Stated David Kaefer, GM of Intellectual Property and Licensing at Microsoft, “Our partners and customers continue to demand greater collaboration as they run increasingly diverse IT environments using technology and solutions that rely on both proprietary and open source code. This 'mixed source' world calls for sensible business arrangements between IT leaders.”

More information on Microsoft's licensing programs may be found here. Brother's Linux driver page may be found here.

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