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Microsoft Won't Sue Linux Users, Company Exec Says

Instead, Microsoft said it wants to create more arrangements that mirror the company's deal with Linux distributor Novell.

Despite its claim to own 42 patents used in the creation of the Linux kernel and hundreds more embedded in other free software programs, Microsoft does not plan to take a page from The SCO Group and sue users of the open source operating system, a senior company official said Monday.

"We're not litigating. If we wanted to we would have done so years ago," said Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft's VP for intellectual property and licensing, in an interview.

Instead, Microsoft wants to create more arrangements that mirror the company's deal with Linux distributor Novell. In November, the two agreed to share intellectual property and pledged not to sue each other's customers. "We created a bridge between two worlds that before were perceived to be unbridgeable," said Gutierrez.

Microsoft's problem: The Free Software Foundation -- the group that controls Linux licensing terms -- is mulling changes to open source copyrights that would prohibit Linux distributors from entering into the type of quid pro quo that Novell has with Microsoft. Version 3 of the General Public License is expected to be published in July and many believe it will incorporate such changes.

Microsoft isn't happy with the proposed revisions. "The latest version of GPL v.3 attempts to tear down the bridge," the company said in a statement released Monday.

Even so, Microsoft would not likely use the courts to try and extract royalty payments from corporate Linux users that it believes are violating its patents even if it's no longer able to strike deals with Linux distributors. "The bridge that we built is one bridge, one particular way of dealing with this problem," said Gutierrez. "It's not the only way in which the problem can be addressed," he said.

The SCO Group, a Unix developer, incurred considerable industry wrath after it sued Linux users Daimler Chrysler and Autozone in 2004 for license violations. Like Microsoft, SCO believes Linux contains software code that is protected by its patents. The company has also sued IBM over intellectual property claims.

The issue was thrust into the spotlight on Sunday, when Fortune magazine published a story in which Gutierrez and Microsoft chief counsel Brad Smith claimed that the Linux kernel violates 42 Microsoft patents while other free software -- including Open Office -- infringes on an additional 193. It was the first time Microsoft put a specific number on its Linux patent claims.

Gutierrez said the comments were made not as a threat, but with the intention of highlighting an intellectual property issue affecting the entire computer industry. "It's important for everyone to understand that there is a real problem with Linux patents and that there is a need for a solution," he said.

Microsoft currently collects royalties from some companies that use Linux in their computing environments, Gutierrez said. However, he declined to indicate the number, the dollar amount Microsoft receives from those payments, or identify any of the companies by name.

Gutierrez also said Microsoft is not likely to publicly list which specific patents it believes are infringed upon by open source software. "We're not going to have a discussion publicly with that level of detail," he said.

Microsoft has made the patents in question known to corporate Linux users and distributors, Gutierrez said.

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