In 2003 SCO, a company active in proprietary Unix and in GNU/Linux distribution, suddenly started suing IBM and threatening other companies with lawsuits for infringement of unspecified "Unix IP" and for breach of contracts related thereto. SCO did not disclose what "IP" this was, but sent around letters demanding license fees of >600 USD for each server that runs Linux. IBM counter-attacked, among others with charges of patent infringement by SCO. Redhat and some others also counter-attacked. Microsoft, a former co-owner of SCO, paid high license fees to SCO and supported SCO's FUD campaign in other ways. SCO joined Microsoft's campaign against the GNU GPL, attributing all problems to this license, but still refusing to disclose what "IP" was being infringed. Bill Gates meanwhile commented that the GNU GPL was incompatible with patents, and that the patent problem had created a new situation which would put any company who uses Linux at risk.
- CRN 2003/07/25: Gates says SCO's Case Against IBM Will Harm Linux's Commercial Prospects
- Bill Gates warned at an investors' conference in his typical cryptic way that Linux will have difficulty to survive in the age of patents: "Here you have a product without R&D controls, and it's not part of a cross-license," he said. "Given the high level of functionality, you'd think it would have patents." "Companies that are doing R&D have by and large entered into cross-licensing agreements," he said. "Microsoft and IBM did cross-licensing 10 years ago, when we were small. But Linux is not covered by most of these cross-licenses." "The whole IP thing is begging to get attention because it's not a scenario that existed in the past," Gates noted. "The SCO suit is largely related to trademark and copyright." "However, Gates said intellectual property from SCO and other companies--including Microsoft--has found its way into the code." "There's no question that in cloning activities, IP from many, many companies, including Microsoft, is being used in open-source software," Gates said. "CEO Steve Ballmer, also on hand to answer questions at the meeting, said customers and partners are confused about the impact of the IP issues related to Linux." Some news reporters such as Heise may be counted among the confused. They took Microsoft's "IP" talk to mean that "Linux contains Microsoft code". Upon careful reading it becomes clear that Gates meant "Linux uses ideas which Microsoft has patented".
see also Heise: Bill Gates: Linux enthält auch Microsoft-Code
- Rosen 2003/08: SCO lawsuit not a threat to users
- Larry Rosen, legal delegate of Open Source Initiative, dissects the claims of SCO
- Microsoft and Patents
- Microsoft Corporation grew large and successful without patents, relying instead on copyright. In 1991 , Bill Gates warned that software patents could lead the software industry to a standstill but could also be very useful for defending monopoly positions. At the USPTO hearings of 1994, Microsoft was the only software company that argued in favor of software patentability. Microsoft has been involved in promoting software patentability in Europe. Simultaneously Microsoft's has invested ample ressources into a campaign to dissuade governments and corporations from using free operating system. Pointing out the insecurity caused to Free Software by patents and contributing to this insecurity by occasional threats has become an important part of the campaign. Microsoft appears to be a favorite victim of patent attacks. In June 2003, Microsoft hired formar IBM patent strategist Marshall Phelps, the father of the "IBM tax", to embark on an aggressive rent-extraction program. Phelps also announced to step up efforts to campaign for software patentability in Europe. Much of this campaigning appears to have been done indirectly by Microsoft partners.
english version 2004/08/16 by Hartmut PILCH