The open source community has been begging Microsoft to get specific about which of its patents the company claims are violated by Linux and other open source programs. The company hasn't yet done so, but today it took a step closer.
As we highlighted earlier today, Microsoft's general counsel and licensing chief finally pinned an actual number to the patent infringement the company has been hinting at since inking its collaboration deal with Linux distributor Novell.
The grand total? Brad Smith and Horatio Gutierrez say that various open source programs violate 235 of the software juggernaut's patents. The biggest culprit is the Linux graphical user interface (GUI), which allegedly violates 65 patents. OpenOffice.org infringes 45, according to Microsoft, and the Linux kernel violates 42. E-mail and other assorted programs, taken together, allegedly infringe 83 patents, according to a report at CNNMoney.
The fact that the company has become so specific (not to mention so vocal) on the issue seems to indicate that Microsoft's not going to sit back any longer. Somehow, someone will pay the company what it's owed for the use of its intellectual property, Microsoft representatives say. So far, Redmond has collected its royalties by including patent protection in its deals with the likes of Novell and Dell, but the new version of the GNU General Public License may forbid that approach in the future.
It remains to be seen exactly how Microsoft will proceed in the matter, but open source legal expert and Software Freedom Law Center founder Eben Moglen seems less than concerned about Microsoft's latest threats, given that infringement is determined not by the number of patents involved, but by an analysis of each individual patent as compared to the allegedly infringing technology.
So what will Microsoft do? CNNMoney suggests it will push its Fortune 500 customers for direct licenses, and beyond that, perhaps look to individual users for royalties. It worked for the record companies. Not surprisingly, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer refused to comment on that last option.