Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Patent Infringement Claims Suggest Microsoft Heading for Open Source Litigation

With Microsoft claiming that Linux and other open source software violates 235 of its patents, at the same time the company is cross-licensing patents it says Linux has violated, analyst Rob Enderle sees the Redmond software giant positioning itself for litigation. The big question, says Enderle in his blog on the IT Business Edge Web site, is who will be the initial target of any legal action by Microsoft.

"My take is Microsoft will put litigation off as long as it can," Enderle says, "but is on a path where I don't think it can avoid litigation forever if it wants to actually protect its patents."

Listing the likely first targets for such litigation, Enderle includes IBM as the largest un-licensed supplier of Linux, the Linux Foundation as a proxy for Linux itself, and Red Hat as the most powerful Linux distribution brand. However, Enderle thinks IBM has too much legal firepower and cross-licensing ammo to provide the overwhelming victory Microsoft would seek in its first legal assault on open source. On the other hand, the relatively meager resources the Linux Foundation is likely to bring to court would leave Microsoft looking like a bully and provide a rallying point for its foes. That leaves Red Hat with a bull's-eye on its back, being neither a legal pushover nor an opponent with resources nearly equal to those of Microsoft.

Enderle's full analysis of Microsoft's recent actions, as well as his advice to Linux-using enterprises who want to avoid getting caught in the crossfire, can be found at his blog:

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