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11/21/2006
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Linux Patent Group Says Microsoft's Claims Are 'Baseless'

"In fact, there have been no patent suits against Linux," said the Open Invention Network's chief executive. The group includes IBM, Novell and Red Hat.

A Linux patent group formed by IBM, Sony, NEC, and Phillips said Microsoft is making "baseless" claims when it says Linux users need protection from patent infringement lawsuits.

The Open Invention Network, which also counts Novell and Red Hat as members, took Microsoft to task for claiming that Linux users needed protection.

"Those claims are baseless," Jerry Rosenthal, chief executive of OIN, said in a statement. "In fact, there have been no patent suits against Linux." OIN is an intellectual patent company formed to share Linux-related patents royalty free.

In an interview, IBM weighed in separately. "We're not sure what Microsoft's intentions are here, but IBM has long asserted that we don't see the need for that coverage," Scott Handy, vice president for worldwide Linux and open source for Big Blue, said. "Patent claims should be settled between vendors, and not involve customers."

Microsoft and Novell announced a deal Nov. 2 that included patent protections, support cooperation and co-development of technology for Windows-Linux interoperability. As part of the agreement, Microsoft promised not to sue Novell for patent infringement stemming from code currently in Novell's SuSE Linux, or future technology co-developed by the companies. Microsoft got the same patent protections from Novell.

The implication that Microsoft code could be in Linux angered the open-source community, which demanded that the software maker prove its claims. Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer fanned the flames further last week, when he said, "Anybody who's got Linux in their data center today sort of has an undisclosed balance sheet liability." The remarks were made to the Professional Association for SQL Server, in a discussion posted on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's site.

In its letter, Novell Chief Executive Ron Hovsepian said the company disagreed with recent statements from Microsoft, and said its deal with the company was "in no way an acknowledgment that Linux infringes upon any Microsoft intellectual property." In response, Microsoft said the two companies "agreed to disagree."

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