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LinuxInsider.com

The Curious Case of the OIN Patent Coup

By Katherine Noyes
Sep 14, 2009 4:00 AM PT

One of the best things about being part of the Linux community is that things are never boring.

The Curious Case of the OIN Patent Coup

Take last week, for example, when some anti-Linux screenshots were leaked from a Microsoft ExpertZone training course for Windows 7 retail salespeople.

Money just can't buy entertainment like that, which is why Linux Girl practically fell off her chair when, just a few days later, word came out that Redmond had launched its own open source foundation.

OK, where's the camera?!

'Backdoor EEE'

It's true: It's called the "CodePlex Foundation," and it launched on Thursday with initial funding from none other than Sauron -- er, Microsoft.

"As soon as I commented on M$'s subterfuge in another thread, out comes this news of this new CodePlex Foundation. Just Wow!" wrote flufferbeer on LXer. "Code-sharing and interoperability for the mutual benefit of all you're thinking?? No way!!!

"Just another way for backdoor EEE," flufferbeer added. "The chutzpah of it all!"

Indeed! Just when we thought things couldn't get any stranger. Stay tuned for more news on that one.

'A Model of Successful Collaboration'

What seemed particularly ironic was that CodePlex's illustrious debut came hard on the heels of the Open Invention Network's acquisition of a number of key Linux-related patents that used to reside in Redmond.

Aiming to provide protection against patent trolls, that purchase was "a model of successful collaboration among defensive patent organizations that share a common goal of creating freedom of action for practicing entities across Linux and the broader technology sector," OIN's Keith Bergelt said.

The Linux Foundation's own Jim Zemlin also weighed in on the matter, congratulating OIN and accusing Microsoft of acting "antagonistically."

'Tricky Patent Schemes'

"It's time for Microsoft to stop secretly attacking Linux while publicly claiming to want interoperability," Zemlin wrote. "Let's hope that Microsoft decides going forward to actually try to win in the marketplace, rather than continuing to distract and annoy us with their tricky patent schemes."

Linux Girl would love to hear Zemlin's thoughts on the newly minted CodePlex Foundation sometime!

While the OIN's patent coup may have had Linux's best interests at heart, however, more than a few bloggers wondered if buying up patents is the best way to protect our favorite operating system.

'Just a Fraud'

"This is a really expensive way to dodge a tiny part of the software patent problem, and it involves paying Microsoft millions," noted H4x0r Jim Duggan on Slashdot, for example. "And for every such trick we win, how many did we lose?"

Even more so: "All this talk of 'defensive patents' that supposedly 'protect the community' is just a fraud," asserted Doc Ruby. "To protect the community, take all the documentation of the patent, and *put it in the public domain*. Then, anyone who wants can implement the tech, without restriction, forever. Keeping it patented retains the power of the patent holder to deny implementation to someone, sometime."

Bloggers on Digg, LXer, Ars Technica and elsewhere debated the news from all perspectives as well, and Linux Girl encountered similarly divergent opinions on the streets of the blogosphere.

'It Won't Stop Patent Trolls'

"This is a dangerous precedent," blogger Robert Pogson told LinuxInsider, for example. "FLOSS should not pay M$ for patents, even indirectly.

"M$ will be only too glad to accept a tax on GNU /Linux," Pogson added. "Software patents should be challenged in court, not respected by FLOSS."

Alternatively: "This will protect open source from the likes of Microsoft, but it won't stop patent trolls," Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack asserted. "Software patents need to be eliminated."

'That Theory Is Flawed'

Then again, a different view: "Microsoft has a large team of lawyers -- well-paid lawyers, some of whom specialize in IP law," Slashdot blogger Josh Ulmer began. "While it is entirely possible that the sale of (unconfirmed!) Linux-oriented IP was an attempt to encourage patent trolls to action against non-MS members of the OSS community, that theory is flawed."

To wit: "Why wouldn't MS pursue the suits themselves, as in the TomTom case?" Ulmer asked. "Selling the patents hoping that they end up in the 'right' hands for MS's agenda is a simple process, while a blind sale leaves too much at risk for what amounts to an unconfirmed attempt at destabilization."

It's good to be wary, and the details of the sale might prove otherwise, but "it has become far too easy to start a witch hunt every time MS (or any company unpopular in the OSS community) makes movements in the field," Ulmer told LinuxInsider.

Not So 'Nefarious'?

Rather, "it is likely in MS's best interests to disseminate IPs related to software they have no plans to develop or incorporate into their core business structure," Ulmer suggested.

"If the motivations in Redmond prove not to be as nefarious as believed," he added, "this can actually be seen as an attempt by MS to release some of the threat they have waved about in recent years."


How important is a candidate's knowledge of technology in winning your vote?
Extremely -- technology is at the center of most of the world's big problems and solutions.
Very -- a candidate who doesn't understand technology can't relate to young people.
Somewhat -- a general understanding is sufficient.
Not very -- choosing good advisers is more important than direct knowledge.
Not at all -- technology is often a distraction from more important issues.