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6/7/2007
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Microsoft Strikes Linux Patent Deal With LG Electronics

Under a deal with LG Electronics, Microsoft will forgo any Linux-related patent claims and in return gain access to certain intellectual property produced by LG.

In its second such agreement this week, Microsoft has struck a deal under which it will extend amnesty to a company that's using what the software maker claims is patented Microsoft intellectual property embedded in the open source Linux computer operating system.

Under a deal with LG Electronics, disclosed late Wednesday, Microsoft will forgo any Linux-related patent claims against the South Korean electronics manufacturer. In return, Microsoft will gain access to certain intellectual property produced by LG.

Microsoft insists that the Linux kernel infringes on 42 Microsoft patents and that other open source software programs violate an additional 193. LG uses Linux in a number of its consumer-electronics products, including smartphones.

In a statement, Jeong Hwan Lee, executive VP for intellectual property at LG, said the intellectual property that his company is licensing to Microsoft concerns "patents directed to computer architecture utilized in game consoles and other products."

The deal also gives Microsoft access to technology used by LG that's patented by MicroConnect Group.

Specific financial terms of the cross-licensing pact weren't disclosed, but Microsoft said the arrangement calls for it to make "net balancing" payments to LG. That implies that the two companies have agreed that the technology to which Microsoft gains access is more valuable than the Microsoft technology claimed to be part of Linux.

Earlier this week, Microsoft announced a cross-licensing agreement with Linux distributor Xandros. That pact also includes a provision under which Microsoft pledges not to pursue patent claims against Xandros arising from its distribution of Linux.

Last November, Microsoft reached a similar accord with Novell.

The deals are controversial. The Free Software Foundation, which governs open source software licensing, denies Microsoft's contention that Linux and other open source programs contain Microsoft intellectual property.

The FSF is in the midst of updating its open source license in ways intended to make it more difficult for Microsoft to strike patent-protection deals with Linux distributors and users.

Among other things, the forthcoming third version of the General Public License, expected to be released this summer, is backdated to forbid Linux distributors from entering patent protection deals with commercial software developers as of March 28.

It would also force participants in prior agreements to extend patent protection to all Linux users. The FSF is hoping the latter provision will convince Microsoft to exit the Novell deal.

Ironically, LG Electronics is a member of a group called the Consumer Electronics Linux Forum. The group comprises a number of electronics manufacturers that embed Linux into their products. On its Web site, CELF says part of its mission is "to operate completely within the letter and the spirit of the open source community."

The FSF and other open source advocates are likely to question whether LG's tie-up with Microsoft is part of that mission.

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