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Microsoft and Patent Trolls

The Open Invention Network (OIN) learned recently that Microsoft was planning to auction off some of its software patents, which we understand it marketed to trolls and some other non-practicing entities. It also used marketing materials that highlighted offensive uses of the patents against open source software, including a number of the most popular open source packages.

This looked to us like a classic FUD effort. To unleash FUD, you assemble a lot of patents of uncertain value, annotate them with a roadmap for the companies and products to be targeted with the patents, put the lot in the hands of trolls schooled in patent aggression, and then stand back and wait for the FUD to spread with its chilling effect.

Fortunately, OIN (through the helpful assistance of Allied Security Trust) managed to obtain this lot of 22 patents. And as part of OIN’s portfolio, they will not be used to cause FUD regarding open source software.

Microsoft has recently sent signals that it wishes to be considered FOSS friendly, including contributing code to the Linux kernel. And we have applauded these efforts.

But its true colors seem in question. It sued Tom-Tom using questionable patents that targeted Linux and has sought to use the alleged strength of its public patents to twist the arms of its clients and partners under the cloak of a confidentiality agreement-imposed secrecy blanket. This latest attempt to encourage patent aggression by trolls against FOSS further shows that Microsoft is not yet committed to the path of peace with the open source software community and appears intent on inappropriately preserving and extending its dominant market positions in the operating system and personal productivity suites.