Patents: Microsoft, Novell, Dell and -- the Devil?

In an unusual but very logical move, Microsoft and Novell signed a pact (with the Devil?) for interoperability and support between Novell's SUSE Linux distro and Microsoft's Windows operating systems. Dell recently signed on.

MS claims to have hundreds of patent infringements documented in the Linux Kernel and other open source software such as Open Office. Companies with business models based on open source software, or other small businesses, would least be able to afford the legal costs of defending against a patent infringement claim by Microsoft.

A Microsoft spokesperson confirmed that open source projects are infringing on 235 of its patents. The company claims that the Linux kernel violates 42 of Microsoft's patents, that the graphical user interface such as the Gnome and KDE projects fall foul of another 65 and that OpenOffice infringes 45. Email programs account for another 15 violations and the remainder is claimed by various other open source applications.

Microsoft did not identify any individual patents on which the software infringes because that could allow open source developers either to challenge the patent or change the software to circumvent the patent. Now I didn't read all the context from the various posts and news items I got this from, but what it sounds like to me is "We're not gonna tell you what we know, because if we did, then we wouldn't be able to threaten you with it as effectively". I don't care who it is --Eolas, Microsoft, whatever - I just take a very dim view of any kind of patent extortion.

Of course, Linus Torvalds wants Microsoft to identify the patents and "come clean". Heh, don't hold your breath D00d!

The whole thing seems to revolve around accomodating the GPL, because open source Linux isn't put out by "a company", but by a "group". Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is getting into this whole deal of what validates a patent, patent parking extortion, and so on. And boy, I really hope they show the guts and wisdom to start straightening it out, because its become a real drag on progress.

I have some interest in stuff like this because more than once I've been contacted by lawyers complaining that extremely generic articles that I've written about some concept or other seem to violate some NDA I signed with a particular company I worked for.

I believe in NDA's, but I don't believe in extortion via horseshit.