"It's certainly a lot more likely that Microsoft violates patents than Linux does," said Torvalds, holder of the Linux trademark. If the source code for Windows could be subjected to the same critical review that Linux has been, Microsoft would find itself in violation of patents held by other companies, said Torvalds.
"Basic operating system theory was pretty much done by the end of the 1960s. IBM probably owned thousands of really 'fundamental' patents," Torvalds said in a response to questions submitted by InformationWeek. But he doesn't like any form of patent saber rattling. "The fundamental stuff was done about half a century ago and has long, long since lost any patent protection," he wrote.
Microsoft should name the patents that it claims have been violated so the claims can be tested in court or so open-source developers can rewrite code to avoid the violation, Torvalds wrote.
"Naming them would make it either clear that Linux isn't infringing at all (which is quite possible, especially if the patents are bad), or would make it possible to avoid infringing by coding around whatever silly thing they claim," he said.
"So the whole, 'We have a list and we're not telling you,' itself should tell you something," Torvalds said of Microsoft's stance in the Fortune story. And for good measure, he added: "Don't you think that if Microsoft actually had some really foolproof patent, they'd just tell us and go, 'nyaah, nyaah, nyaah!'"
Microsoft would prefer not to actually sue anyone, particularly a Linux user who's also a Microsoft customer. "They'd have to name the patents then, and they're probably happier with the FUD [fear, uncertainty, doubt] than with any lawsuit," Torvalds predicted.