PC World – Microsoft Patent Claims Hint at Internal Issues

In a follow up to Microsoft takes on the free world, PC World has an article today which points to internal issues as Microsoft that may be driving their recent “behavior” vis-a-vis patents.

Microsoft’s claims that it will ask distributors and users to pay royalties for up to 235 of its patents included in open-source software, including Linux, is clearly an attempt to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt and make people hesitant to use open source as an alternative to commercial products, intellectual-property (IP) attorneys said. But the claims also raise questions about the business strategy behind Microsoft’s aggressive moves to seek licensing money from patents amid rumbles that customers have been slow to adopt Windows Vista and Office 2007, while new products such as the Xbox 360 remain unprofitable.

There may be a link between the timing of Microsoft’s claims against open source and the release of its Windows Vista product, said Stuart Meyer, partner at Fenwick & West in Mountain View, California. Rather than add features to Vista that would make business users want to adopt it, the OS’ distinguishing characteristic is the addition of an engine that will shut down users access to Vista if they are using a counterfeit or pirated version of the software, he said.

“Why do people want to want to switch to an OS that just includes new hurdles that have to be cleared?” he said. Microsoft may have decided that enforcing its IP through litigation is more important than offering innovative software that can compete on its own merits, a strategy that may leave many users unimpressed, Meyer suggested.

It remains to be seen whether Microsoft will be able to collect on its claims or if the open-source community will use them to strive for patent reform, currently a popular issue before the U.S. Congress. However, the claims certainly will raise important issues around how patent-infringement cases will be litigated in the future, said Paul Lesko, head of the IP litigation group at SimmonsCooper LLC in St. Louis.

Linux evangelist Eric Raymond seems to think the patents at issue fall under the latter category. “It is nearly as certain that those patents are all junk,” he said in an e-mail interview. “If Microsoft had sound and critically relevant patents to assert, they wouldn’t need to screw around with vague threats. They’d simply publish the patent numbers and it would be game over for Linux.”