Red Hat Calm In Face Of Microsoft's Renewed Patent Claims - InformationWeek

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10/10/2007
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Red Hat Calm In Face Of Microsoft's Renewed Patent Claims

If Red Hat takes alarm and responds to the Microsoft assertions, CEO Matthew Szulik warns it will fan the fears, uncertainty and doubt that Microsoft is hoping to exploit.

Red Hat is taking a business-as-usual stance in the face of renewed rumblings from Microsoft's Steve Ballmer over the need for Red Hat Linux users to pay up.

Ballmer has repeatedly claimed that Microsoft IP is found in Linux. "People [who] use Red Hat, at least with respect to our intellectual property, in a sense have an obligation to eventually compensate us," said Ballmer at a Microsoft event last week in London.

But Red Hat itself has adopted a stance that keeps it above the Microsoft patent fray. "At this point, please reference our previous statements on this topic," said a Red Hat spokesman contacted Tuesday about Microsoft's statements on Red Hat Linux users. The spokesman pointed out a Red Hat blog posted "after the last FUD statements from Microsoft" in May, she said.

The blog by Red Hat's "IP Team" notes that Red Hat indemnifies customers against patent claims and says there's been "no patent lawsuit against Linux. Ever. Anywhere." The SCO Group claims against Linux were based on SCO's assertion that it owned the copyright to Unix. That claim has been largely overturned in federal district court.

Red Hat CEO Matthew Szulik has also repeatedly declined to hit back at Microsoft's statements of IP violation on the grounds that Microsoft refuses to name the patents allegedly violated. At the Red Hat Summit user group in San Diego last May, Szulik said: "Are they swinging at us? Absolutely. But who does the swinging back benefit, really?" he asked. If Red Hat takes alarm and responds to the Microsoft assertions, it will fan the fears, uncertainty and doubt that Microsoft is hoping to exploit with its statements. As it adds 10,000 customers a quarter, Red Hat must concentrate on executing its own business strategy and not get distracted by the assertions of competitors, he added.

The Red Hat IP Team blog cites a 17 May report by Gartner analysts Mark Driver, George Weiss and Brian Prentice that notes, "Gartner believes that Microsoft will not seek to litigate patent claims against users. Instead, we think the company will attempt to pressure technology providers to come to the table and negotiate an equitable licensing or royalty agreement."

Novell entered such an agreement and received assurances that it would not be the target of any Microsoft patent lawsuit. Red Hat has refused to sign such an agreement.

"We do not believe Microsoft intends to pursue end-user IT organizations. Instead, we believe it will use the fear of legal compliance to pressure IT providers to enter into individual IP agreements. If suppliers balk or challenge Microsoft, this could escalate into a broader conflict as large-scale commercial open-source vendors (such as HP, IBM and Sun) are pulled into the conflict when their customers and partners turn to them for protection and support," the Gartner report concluded.

Meanwhile, former Red Hat Deputy Counsel for IP, Mark Webbink, has been named to the board of directors of the Software Freedom Law Center, a supplier of pro bono legal services to open source software developers and distributors. Webbink retired from Red Hat in August.

"I am grateful to Mark for putting his wisdom at the service of our clients," said Eben Moglen, the center's director, in announcing Webbink's appointment. The Center advised the Free Software Foundation on how to generate the GPLv3 license to thwart future patent claims against open source code. The Foundation has shown more aggressiveness recently as it filed its first North American suit against what it termed a violator of the GPL, Monsoon Multimedia.

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