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Ballmer Threatens Linux Patent Lawsuits 506

Posted by michael
from the big-whoop dept.
gillbates writes "Today Microsoft warned several Asian countries that using Linux could subject them to lawsuits, claiming that Linux violates '228 patents'. Apparently, Steve Ballmer believes he can enforce U.S. law in Asia." Ballmer is presumably speaking about this story. So, companies which sell insurance against lawsuits and companies which make competing products both warn of the dangers of using Linux. Maybe someone should point out that Microsoft is battling dozens of patent-infringement lawsuits itself, and any user of Microsoft software (including governments) could also be sued?
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Ballmer Threatens Linux Patent Lawsuits

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  • Maybe someone (Score:5, Insightful)

    by banana fiend (611664) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @10:34AM (#10853308)
    There's the problem. Microsoft has someone to do that. "Someone" who is willing to send out threatening letters to MS product users on behalf of the OpenSource community will be hard to find (or hard to pay for)
    • Re:Maybe someone (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 18, 2004 @10:38AM (#10853345)
      That might not be true. Look what a week of gathering cash did for Firefox!! I bet that if Slashdot posted a "donate money to fight Microsoft in court" fund we'd raise millions of dollars to help fight the lies!

      I'm willing to donate literally tens of dollars to such a cause.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        I had to reread that last sentence because my mind automatically inserted "thousands of" for me.
      • Noise and smoke (Score:5, Insightful)

        by SgtChaireBourne (457691) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @11:17AM (#10853827) Homepage
        That might not be true. Look what a week of gathering cash did for Firefox!! I bet that if Slashdot posted a "donate money to fight Microsoft in court" fund we'd raise millions of dollars to help fight the lies!
        I agree that's clever, but may not be the best way to improve the current situation. Especially since MS seems to want to generate lawsuits.

        One way to look at it is that lawsuits are an expensive way to make noise. Ballmer has to make noise or else folks will resume paying attention to their work and finding that MS is an obstacle. Or worse, that folks will start checking out other options like OpenOffice.org or OS X or one of the Linux distros. Or, even worse, they'll start to realise that MS stock is a worse investment than Enron:

        Mainstream press is starting to figure out that MS-Windows dominance will last only another 2- 4 years [zdnet.com.au] and that only because of the enormous marketing and lobbying engine that MS is. To add weight to that, MS blocked its employees from exercising their "underwater" stock options during 2004. That was intended to increase retention, as employees need to remain with Microsoft to receive the payout [zdnet.co.uk]. Retention would not be an issue unless the company looked to have no future.

        Many execs, however haven't been able to empty their portfolios yet and want more delay.

        • Re:Noise and smoke (Score:3, Interesting)

          by westlake (615356)
          Mainstream press is starting to figure out that MS-Windows dominance will last only another 2- 4 years and that only because of the enormous marketing and lobbying engine that MS is.

          Closer reading of the article suggests that it will be 2-4 years before Linux becomes competitive with Windows. The year of Linux always seems to be 2-4 years in the future.

        • Re:Noise and smoke (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          "To add weight to that, MS blocked its employees from exercising their "underwater" stock options during 2004."

          What the hell you talking about?

          1. Who WANTS to exercise underwater options? That means that you LOSE money because you suddenly have options that cost WAY more than the market value is and selling those would instantly lose a ton of money.

          2. Blocked? Well there is this thing called Vesting....which happens everywhere which gradually increases the number of options you can exercise. Its not nec
          • You're an idiot.

            1. "indemnify" does not mean "you cannot be sued". Only "we'll pay you the damages if you get sued"
            2. the indemnification move is a recent anouncement, the EULA only says "not exceeding the software cost" and "MS is not liable" (HA!) - and all you have to show for it is a website, at most (not really legally binding, eh?) Reading the conditions, it's not exactly guaranteed, either, that MS will deign to step in. Plus, even if they do, you need to completely hand over the defense to them, wh
        • by SuperKendall (25149) * on Thursday November 18, 2004 @01:53PM (#10856018)
          The article only states that Microsoft dominance will last at least two to four years more, it does not imply it might wane after that point. Only that it is a lock until then.

          However the article makes a terrible assumption, that Microsoft is way outspending "Open Source" with R&D dollars!! Six billion (for MS) to ten million (OSDL labs R&D budget).

          If you think about it that is really absurd, you should really think about it in terms of raw manpower and not dollars spent. In software some guy in a garage working weekends is every bit a potential source of a great idea as some guy sitting on a million dollars worth of hardware. There is no supercollider or electron microscope of the software world without which it would be hard to make a contribution. Counting manpower, Microsoft is hopelessly outclassed by many orders of magnitude.

          So, basically I would say just don't quote that article at all!
        • Re:Noise and smoke (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Ogerman (136333)
          I agree that's clever, but may not be the best way to improve the current situation. Especially since MS seems to want to generate lawsuits.
          One way to look at it is that lawsuits are an expensive way to make noise.


          Precisely. The proper way to stop the noise is to pull the carpet out from under the noise maker, not to buy millions of earplugs. Do you hate Microsoft's sleazy tactics? Do you hate bogus software patents? Then do everything within your power to make Open Source succeed in the marketplace.
    • by flyneye (84093)
      I've said it a thousand times:Balmer is a complete idiot.Balmer is a stuffed scarecrow speaking with Gates voice saying things that Gates knows he would sound stupid saying but nonetheless just has to say to see reactions.
      pay no heed to this sycophant.move along in an orderly fashion,nothing to see here.

    • There's the problem. Microsoft has someone to do that.

      Not really an issue when you consider the fact that companies like SCO are losing money in these infringement cases.

      FTA: "Some day," he continued, "for all countries that are entering the WTO [World Trade Organization], somebody will come and look for money owing to the rights for that intellectual property."

      Notice how he didn't say the SCO!
    • Re:Maybe someone (Score:3, Interesting)

      by FuzzyBad-Mofo (184327)

      Another thing to keep in mind is that Microsoft now offers patent (and other IP) indemnification for their volume customers. From the latest Ballmergram [microsoft.com]:

      Today, when a volume licensing customer - a business or organization ranging from as few as five computers to many thousands - licenses a Microsoft product, we provide uncapped protection for legal costs associated with a patent, copyright, trademark or trade secret claim alleging infringement by a Microsoft product.

      That's their Linux strategy, folks. O

  • Re: (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 18, 2004 @10:35AM (#10853318)
    I knew we should have taken out the ability to double click!
  • by Xpilot (117961) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @10:35AM (#10853321) Homepage
    And in related news from Middle Earth...

    OSGILIATH (Reuters) - Mordor Corp. warned Middle Earth kingdoms on Thursday they could face the wrath of Orc armies for harbouring and aiding Gandalf and his fellowship of hobbits instead of rightfully bowing to the will of Sauron.

    The growing popularity of Gandalf - a wise and benevolent wizard who freely aids all in need and is a friend of all free people of Middle Earth - is a thread to the global dominance of Sauron's Dominion Of Evil.

    Gandalf's fellowship has illegally kept Sauron's valuables, Mordor's Mouth of Sauron said at the regime's Middle Earth Kingdom Leaders Forum in Osgiliath. He did not provide any details on what exactly the nature of Sauron's valuables which were stolen are, which the Fellowship disputes.

    Ex-hobbit Gollum McBride, who claims that "nasty hobbitses stole his preciousss", is suing elves and hobbits alike, including the Shire.

    Rohan's Riders of Defense at Gandalf's council last month readied 20,000 horsemen to face the assault of Mordor Corp instead of submitting freely to the evil reign of Sauron.

    Other kingdoms in the region are also beginning to rally under one banner. Gondor, Arnor and Erebor this year agreed to jointly combat Sauron's forces at Gandalf's advice.

    The kingdom of Gondor, in particular, sees its proximity to Mordor as a potential threat. Conspiracy buffs believe that subliminal messages sent to Denethor from Sauron via his Palantir might drive the steward insane and thus confuse and cripple Gondor's defenses, possibly during a battle in the Pelennor fields.

    The Mouth of Sauron said that security fears some rulers had about surrending to Mordor were "overblown".

    "We think Sauron will provide far more security than Gandalf ever could. Sauron is a better protector for you lot because he has this awesome Ring which he forged, he fixed and he stands behind. Gandalf doesn't have an awesome Ring," he said.

  • by Jaywalk (94910) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @10:36AM (#10853322) Homepage
    I'm glad Ballmer has been so proactive in helping China figure out what to do with software patents. It looks like Europe is leaning [groklaw.net] toward at least minimizing -- if not eliminating -- software patents. When China turns its attention to the subject, Ballmer's little speech should give them some food for thought on which direction they should go.

    Keep in mind that China is a Communist country and any concept of intellectual property is relatively novel.

    • by Coryoth (254751) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @10:45AM (#10853454) Homepage Journal
      I'm glad Ballmer has been so proactive in helping China figure out what to do with software patents. It looks like Europe is leaning toward at least minimizing -- if not eliminating -- software patents. When China turns its attention to the subject, Ballmer's little speech should give them some food for thought on which direction they should go.

      Keep in mind that China is a Communist country and any concept of intellectual property is relatively novel.


      Keep in mind that China, Japan and Korea are cooperating together to create a standardised asian linux system, and considerable sums of money have been invested in the project. A large pat of the reason was to remove dependence on foreign companies... which is to say, Microsoft.

      China, Japan and Korea working together is no mean feat either - they are historically incredibly bitter enemies. Think a nice English/Irish/French cooperative linux distribution and you might get the idea.

      I doubt China will be scared of Liux by anything Ballmer has to say about patents. You're quite right. They are more likely to take the other option and view the software patents as the problem.

      Jedidiah.
    • Since When Did... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by millahtime (710421)
      Since when did China care about western laws and patents? Right now western corps are russing in there for business. There are a billion people in an up and coming economy. China doesn't care about M$ or US laws. They believe they are in the drivers seat.

      China has the second most powerful military and the fastest growing economy. Plus they are not a democracy.... again, why would they care?
    • by prell (584580) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @11:13AM (#10853777) Homepage
      From the link:
      Poland has tipped the scales by voting against the proposed text agreed to by the EU Council in May.
      I'm sensing a sudden shift in Polandistic attitudes.

      "You forgot Poland. No, seriously, don't fucking forget Poland."
    • IP Law in China (Score:3, Informative)

      by westlake (615356)
      Keep in mind that China is a Communist country and any concept of intellectual property is relatively novel.

      Laws and Regulations [most.gov.cn] provides links to English language translations of the Chinese law of copyright, trademarks, patents, etc. There is not much here that would look unfamiliar to the U.S. or any of it's major trading partners. No one is expecting any immeadiate changes on the street, but building a solid IP portfolio is beginning to look like a good business practice even in China. Microsoft Not [nwsource.com]

  • Indemnified? (Score:5, Informative)

    by CaptainBaz (621098) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @10:36AM (#10853329) Homepage Journal
    Maybe someone should point out that Microsoft is battling dozens of patent-infringement lawsuits itself, and any user of Microsoft software (including governments) could also be sued?
    That's funny, I thought Microsoft had indemnified its customers against IP threats? [slashdot.org]
    • Re:Indemnified? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Slashcrunch (626325) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @10:46AM (#10853464) Homepage
      By indemnified, I believe they mean that their customers will not be sued by other companies for using MS products. MS would be sued, and be required to pay up or make the required changes.

      Don't get me wrong, I'm no MS fanboy, but lets be clear about it. I don't think any company can safely claim to be 100% in the clear when it comes to patents. Not in the world we live in...
    • Re:Indemnified? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Maffy (806058) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @10:48AM (#10853482)

      I believe Microsoft will indemnify as long as you don't use any non-Microsoft software at all on your system.

      See this article [groklaw.net] on Groklaw for a description of some of the other possible loopholes.

      Matt

      • Re:Indemnified? (Score:4, Informative)

        by jhdevos (56359) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @11:21AM (#10853891) Homepage
        Groklaws opinion is based on the following lines from the MS offering:
        Our obligations will not apply to the extent that the claim or adverse final judgment is based on:
        (ii) the combination of the covered software with a non-Microsoft product, data, or business process;

        (iii) damages attributable to the value of the use of a non-Microsoft product, data, or business process;
        Note the first line: running other software is only a problem if the claims or judgements against you are due to the combination of that software with MS's.

        That means that if it is clearly the MS product that infringes, the agreement does not allow MS to back out.

        I feel that Groklaw is wrong on this.

        Jan

    • by base_chakra (230686) * on Thursday November 18, 2004 @10:50AM (#10853500)
      That's funny, I thought Microsoft had indemnified its customers against IP threats?

      That's true, they did. Which means that even if Microsoft sues itself, I'll be in the clear!
    • Re:Indemnified? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by gregmac (629064)
      When exactly did this whole business of customers getting sued for using a product someone else wrote start? It seems to me this never happened before SCO threatened Linux users. I thought the reason for that was simply with Linux, there is no entity that creates it that can be sued, so they were going after the customers.

      Traditionally, it's the responsibility of the software developer to deal with the IP stuff, and the customers can just go and use it. If the developer violates some patents, they're the o
      • by KWTm (808824) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @11:58AM (#10854406) Journal
        Thank god for SCO! Without SCO, the very idea of the Redmond software juggernaut wielding its mighty IP portfolio to crush some upstart software system, written by some "random hacker in China", would send corporate executives scrambling for the protection of O Holy Microsoft.

        But guess what? For over a year now, these executives have been hearing about this little SCO company suing IBM, and ... and suing IBM, and suing and suing ... and not winning (yet) ... and not winning, and not winning ... Hmm, maybe this intellectual property crap isn't all it's made out to be, after all.

        And what's this Linux thing the executives keep hearing about? Oh, it's nothing to worry about, says Microsoft. Ignore it, says Microsoft. Pay no attention, says Microsoft's Steve Ballmer to Munich, skiing across the Atlantic to bring this not very important message to Germany. Don't bother to even think about it, says Microsoft, pulling out all manner of independent reviews to prove its point.

        And now, Microsoft roars, if you use Linux, we will SUE YOU!!!! (if you're in China). The Price-Waterhouse executive quakes in his boots as he gazes on the corporate global map--

        Hey, waitaminnit, he says. We don't *have* anything in China.

        He picks up the phone. "Miss Wynton? Have you renewed our corporate membership in MandrakeClub Gold yet?"

        Thank you, SCO.
  • by Doesn't_Comment_Code (692510) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @10:37AM (#10853333)
    This should go over really well. At least MS is entrenched in most business environments here in the U.S. so they can get away with a lot of this stuff. But in Asia (especially in places where they are pushing the stripped-down edition of Windows) this is going to alienate them even more than just having high prices.

    "Buy our expensive software... or try the alternative and we'll sue you."

    Good way to make friends.
  • This will backfire. (Score:5, Informative)

    by earthforce_1 (454968) <earthforce_1NO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Thursday November 18, 2004 @10:37AM (#10853337) Journal
    There is an article in Groklaw about how Poland is voting against EU software patents, and that the majority has tipped against them. His comments only help to underscore why this is the correct decision, and can only help our cause. It looks like the US will be the only country to recognize software patents.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You are not forgotten!
    • It looks like the US will be the only country to recognize software patents.

      Perfect, another reason for the US government to wage war.

  • This subject making is presented in a way that implies that some sort of legal authority be brought to bear to make Ballmer shut up. I say that the best way to counter mis-information is with good information. I'd rather live in a society where people fight back against this sort of thing rather than whine, cry foul, and expect mommy to make him stop.
  • by stonebeat.org (562495) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @10:39AM (#10853370) Homepage
    maybe MS prefers that the asian countries use pirated copies of Windows instead of pirated copies of Linux ;)
  • Ho hum (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dprust (316840) *
    I'm getting bored of seeing these patent lawsuits. To think that insurance companies exist just to sell insurance against such lawsuits shows just how pathetic our patenting system is. *yawn*

    What ever happened to winning by doing better than the competition, anyway? Are American corporations so pathetic that they have to stoop to this level to compete now?
    • Re:Ho hum (Score:3, Insightful)

      by RAMMS+EIN (578166)
      ``What ever happened to winning by doing better than the competition, anyway? Are American corporations so pathetic that they have to stoop to this level to compete now?''

      You just said it. They are competing by doing better than the competition. Just that they are trying to win over not customers but judges. It's probably easier that way - customers are either stuck on Windows or addicted to free - either way you won't get a lot of money from them.

      Writing software doesn't make you money anymore, so you ha
  • Patent Law (Score:2, Insightful)

    by teiresias (101481)
    While the long arm of United States patent law cannot be enforced in the Asian countries Balmer accuses, I am sure he is referring to the influence that will be exerted (directly and indirectly) to these countries by Microsoft and it's respective surrogates.
  • That will be a nice test cases for the legal status of Open-Source. And when they lose it will make govs think about their intellectual property laws. Some govs might finally stop listening to the 'advice' of big cooperations once they feel the consequences for themselfs. Either way it means improvement... But i'm not that hopefull, MS is just spreading FUD again, i don't think Ballmer will go as far as sueing govs, he isn't that dumb either. But other might...
  • FUD, FUD, FUD (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rkhalloran (136467) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @10:41AM (#10853389) Homepage
    (a) The EU is moving away from software patents (b) the majority of nations in Asia don't have them AFAIK (c) many governments are pushing OSS for open, stable file formats and to promote local entrepreneurs in development and support areas.

    I suppose with the SCO FUD-fest against Linux imploding, that Ballmer feels the need to spread FUD direct from the source to combat the Penguin Horde advancing on the Gates of Redmond.
    • Re:FUD, FUD, FUD (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Megaweapon (25185)
      Uh, what "Penguin Horde"? I dig linux and all, but there still isn't a huge "threat" yet to Microsoft right now. Look around at the industry rags, Linux to MS is still at nusciance level, not threat level (yet).
      • Re:FUD, FUD, FUD (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Sique (173459)
        The threat level is reached in the server environment. The growth of the Windows Server offerings was planned to take up all the market share the UNIX companies were losing. But they don't loose to Windows, they loose to Linux. So basicly Microsoft can't run into the UNIX world as they planned, but Linux is walking in.
        10 years ago the calculation was that Windows NT offers the migration path away from UNIX to a Microsoft world (Windows NT is certified UNIX95 compliant, even though in 1995, Microsoft owned t
  • by kindofblue (308225) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @10:41AM (#10853394)
    Just curious, since I'm not an international lawyer, what happens if somebody sues a Chinese company. Can't China just claim that they will not honor any software patents on any software or on Linux specifically? It's not like they have a history of respecting other countries IP rights.

    The US could complain to the WTO or somebody, but they are toothless. China is too big to start a trade war with.

    Poland just recently decided against supporting software patents in the EU. Does that mean they will not respect other countries' patents on software or just that they will not go along with Europe issuing them?

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Each country has its own patent laws, and they apply only to that country. They also only restrict the sale and production in that country. So if something is only patented in the US, any company outside the US can manufacture and sell it anywhere but the US. Any companies trying to sell it in the US would be subject to US law, and could be sued.

      No country does or is expexted to respect other countries IP laws, but the US has put political pressure on other countries to make their own laws more like its
    • by Halo1 (136547) <jonas.maebe@elis ... .be minus author> on Thursday November 18, 2004 @01:07PM (#10855338) Homepage

      what happens if somebody sues a Chinese company. Can't China just claim that they will not honor any software patents on any software or on Linux specifically? It's not like they have a history of respecting other countries IP rights.

      Listen to this speech [ugent.be] (mp4 audio, 3.9 MiB) given by David Martin [m-cam.com] from M-CAM [m-cam.com] at the FFII conference [ffii.org] on software patents from last week. His company is specialised in assessing the value of patent portfolios and technology transfers. Here's part of a transcript of his speech:

      For the last five years, the United states has had a very active policy of actually the alleging the Chinese steal things. They steal things, they're bad people because they steal things. That's a very funny position, and it's couched in the "you don't respect intellectual property".

      So what you have is, you know Chinese don't respect intellectual property, therefore they steal things, therefore because MPAA and RIAA say that they steal things, we have to all tell the masses "yes, in fact, they steal things".

      There's a funny reality unfolding. The funny reality is that the Chinese are actually saying "I wonder if you can pull the pin out of the grenade and throw it back". And by that I mean this: what if the patents that are being asserted to be stolen or copied or infringed aren't actually worth the paper they're being printed on and what if the Chinese using their sovereign rights actually challenge those patents.

      What would happen then? Well let's play that tape for a little bit more because I think at last calculation 43% of the US currency is actually owned by the Chinese, because we are very fond of debt. We're extremely fond of debt, so much so that we've sold our currency to the Chinese and they currently own our debt.

      Now add to that the fact that they also have a lot of people and a lot of resources to call into question the due process of all bad patents. Guess what happens. Who wins? I'm gonna submit to you that everybody loses.

      Listen to the rest of his speech for more. I guarantee you it'll be worth your while. For the record, he concludes his speech with

      "If we don't actually confront the integrity problem, which says that we are stimulated to issue garbage (...), we're rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic."

      Nice to hear that from someone in the field, isn't it?

      Poland just recently decided against supporting software patents in the EU. Does that mean they will not respect other countries' patents on software or just that they will not go along with Europe issuing them?

      Unlike in the US, the introduction (or not) of software patents in Europe is being handled via a legislative process (as opposed to purely via case law). For an overview of the legislative process, have a look here [nosoftwarepatents.com]. The bottom line is that it's currently the turn of the European Council of Ministers, which has to reach a qualified majority for one text or another. The current text is hardcore pro-unlimited patentability.

      Now Poland has confirmed they do not support that text (they weren't even formally asked after a break in a meeting in May where some fake compromise amendments were introduced, and where a political agreement was reached). Together with a change of voting weights that went into effect on 1st November (because of the expansion of the EU), this means there is no longer a qualified majority for the current text.

      So it has nothing to do with not respecting other countries' patents. Besides, a patent is always only valid in the country it has been granted in, that's how pat

  • by Viol8 (599362) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @10:42AM (#10853399)
    ...where the sun is rapidly setting on certain parts of his windows operation. The man might be a good businessman but he doesn't seem to realise that making veiled threats does not intimidate people as it does in the west , in asia its considered extremely rude and gets their backs up and hence they're MORE likely to be contrary and ignore you and your company even further.
  • No law (Score:3, Insightful)

    by lildogie (54998) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @10:42AM (#10853401)
    > Apparently, Steve Ballmer believes he can enforce U.S. law in Asia.

    No, I think he's counting on it that Asia cannot prosecute Microsoft under U.S.A. racketeering laws.
    • yeah, well they have their own racketeering laws over there and don't seem to be using them either...
  • Does this guy just wake up every morning, and decide that he is going to get himself in the news by making inflammatory statements/claims?

    I believe the real war for M$ is in the trenches, and Ballmer making these stupid statements from time to time has only got to unnerve his customers (rather than his competitors).

    What they really need to be doing is getting aggressive on making deals happen using price points that will work (which they are already doing), and work on improving their image as far as se

  • ahem... (Score:4, Informative)

    by GraemeDonaldson (826049) <graeme@@@donaldson...za...net> on Thursday November 18, 2004 @10:43AM (#10853412) Homepage
    To quote Linus: They are smoking crack [eweek.com].
  • by thodu (530182)
    The original report said that the kernel potentially (since they are non-court validated) infringes an estimated 283 patents. And now Ballmer is sure that all of the issued patents are actually valid.

    This sort of MBA doublespeak makes my blood boil!
  • by gosand (234100) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @10:44AM (#10853430)
    We think our software is far more secure than open-source software. It is more secure because we stand behind it, we fixed it, because we built it. Nobody ever knows who built open-source software.

    Hilarious. That is like saying "I am the strongest man in the world because I have brown hair, I wear shoes, and I am standing here right now."

  • Despite the fact that Asia is notorious for being a den of thieves when it comes to software, I'd bet that Microsoft can lean on enough people who can lean on the right people over in Asia to crack down.

    And well they should. If the patents are bullshit then the lawsuits will put them permanently six feet under and if they're legit then Linux can fix itself for the future. Wah wah. Patents are coming. Boo hoo.

  • Ironic that Microsoft advocate the choice of software based on its merits rather than just jumping on the open-source bandwagon. Then they basically say not to choose software other than Microsoft as we'll sue you.

    Surely Microsoft should target the vendor not the recipient of the software? that is if there's anything but FUD in their argument.

    It just shows how desperate they are becoming.
  • by Tim C (15259)
    Patent law, like copyright law, is essentially international in nature. You can be granted patents in any number of different countries; it's possible that MS holds patents in the relevant countries, not just in the US.

    Besides which, a significant number of the projects that may be targetted are developed in the States, and thus fall under US patent laws. They may not have a case overseas, but that won't matter much if they cut the legs out from under the project. Sure, with open source you can take over d
  • BBC-news coverage. (Score:3, Informative)

    by AVee (557523) <slashdotNO@SPAMavee.org> on Thursday November 18, 2004 @10:47AM (#10853470) Homepage
    The BBC has an article [bbc.co.uk] about it as well. It has a nice tough at the end:

    Microsoft, the world's largest software maker, has the most to lose should Linux use spread.

    This nicely puts Balmers statement in the correct perspective for the readers that aren't 'into the bussiness'. I like that...
  • by shanebush (301668) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @10:47AM (#10853471) Homepage

    Advice to Ballmer: If you fight linux with patents, be prepared for Novell.

    http://www.novell.com/company/policies/patent/ [novell.com]

  • by wowbagger (69688) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @10:51AM (#10853513) Homepage Journal
    Does anybody know when Steve's birthday is? I'd like to get him a monocle, a fake scar, and a white cat.

    I think he can pull that look off better than Bill can.

    Either that, or a pinstripe suit - so he can do the "Nice OS you have hear. It'd be a shame if anything were to happen to it" thing better.

  • Assumed ACE (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jav1231 (539129) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @10:52AM (#10853521)
    I think M$ is planning this as a last ditch. I think they are being very wary of how they approach Linux as a competitor in hopes that suits like SCO's will stifle Linux. Now that it's becoming obvious that SCO's suit isn't likely to succeed, they are hedging their bets with patents. I think this could ultimately backfire on them even if they hold these patents. Prior art is one aspect they aren't figuring on. Another is the fact that Linux is being adopted by a lot of companies and governments. To go into court in, say, 3-4 years and try to sue bsed on these patents might not sit well with a judge. Especially some of the more silly patents. They could come off as looking like they let the patents go unchallenged and simply enforced them in an effort to stifle competition. Whatever the case, having IBM, Novell, and more big companies backing Linux is only going to help.
  • Microsoft says: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by erroneus (253617) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @10:54AM (#10853550) Homepage
    Okay fine! If you're not our customer, prepare to be sued for it!

    While I generally take legal threats and action fairly seriously, my knee-jerk reaction is that Microsoft will be laughed out of the arena on this one. This would be a persuit that would turn the public against them. I can see the IBM propaganda commercials on TV now. They'd be depicting a hobbyist writing making something in their garage or basement followed quickly by a SWAT team with guns pointed at his head.

    While it's true that business has taken a natural interest in Linux. It's free, it's reliable, it's flexible, it's customizable and it's everywhere and simply growing and growing. It can't be stopped. Anything that Microsoft does againt the users of Linux will certainly make them look even more evil in the public's eye than ever before.

    Public opinion has turned against the RIAA and MPAA because they're now known for suing children and little old ladies. Clear Channel has bad enough vibe out there that they are operating under the names of the companies they bought out just to hide their identity since many people no longer want to go to Clear Channel events. Most people accept Microsoft as part of their computer like a keyboard, mouse or monitor. But when people and small businesses start getting sued and the public gets wind of it, not only will it serve as free advertisement for the new "Underdog" but it'll cause a lot of negative opinion against Microsoft. Apple will start collecting more fans as their next home PC will be a happy-faced G5 running something that's not Microsoft.

    Go ahead Microsoft... make my day.
  • by WCMI92 (592436) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @10:55AM (#10853553) Homepage
    Their threats are empty. They are CONVICTED of being a monopoly and illegally USING that power to force themselves into dominance in other markets.

    If MS attempts to use a patent to stifle Linux uptake, the courts can strip the patent from them even if it IS a valid patent.

    Microsoft threatening like this is the best thing that has ever happened to those of us who oppose software patents. MS is huge and rich, but compared to the rest of the US and world economy, they are a flyspeck. Microsoft seems to be ACTIVELY trying to turn the whole world AGAINST them.

    Funny how Ballmer is sounding like Darl McBride...

    If you are a former customer, expect to be sued. You have our "presssccciiooouss" IP.

    Suing your customers, or THREATENING to sue your customers is not a proven successful business tactic.

    IBM has more patents than God, and their business interest is in protecting Linux. I am not too worried about MS or someone sucessfully getting Linux stopped via software patents, and the attempt will do more to teach our business community and our government that software patents are bad and should be abolished or limited in scope.

    For one thing, companies should have to choose: Copyright or patent. They can have one or the other, not BOTH.

    • by Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @11:12AM (#10853758) Homepage
      MS CANT use patents to stifle competition

      Why yes, they can. It's legal! And they will. What makes you think they would not?

      If MS attempts to use a patent to stifle Linux uptake, the courts can strip the patent from them even if it IS a valid patent.

      Very VERY unlikely. The courts over and over side with big business and patent holders. Eola was a fluke.

      Suing your customers, or THREATENING to sue your customers is not a proven successful business tactic.

      SCO is the exception, and had it not been for the fact that Linux had Red Hat, Novell, and IBM behind it, SCO's threatening may very well have been successful. In other cases, threatening your customers works quite well when you own the market.

      IBM has more patents than God, and their business interest is in protecting Linux.

      Hog wash. IBM's business is protecting IMB. SCO is a little piss-ant, and IBM knows it can squash them, and have fun doing it. Microsoft would be a much different case. IBM and M$ would have worked out a very friendly financial arrangement with licenses and everything.

      I understand how you feel, but your views do not take into account reality. Sorry.

  • by asrgomes (130880) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @10:56AM (#10853573)
    This is just another public manifestation of the tactics used by MSFT. FUD FUD FUD....

    But it is quite intesting to notice the effect this type of argument has on some IT people. The other day one of our clients (a manager of a US company) tried to explain me (and my team) how all open-source licenses are dangerous. It was kinda funny, because he couldnt event tell the difference between acronyms such as GNU, GPL, LGPL, CPL, MPL, etc. Basically, open-source is bad because lawyers told him so, although he was unable to cite any real example. I got really upset.

    Yeah, Ballmer's arguments make a lot of sense from his own perspective. MSFT wishes to thank SCO...
  • by heybo (667563) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @11:03AM (#10853638) Homepage

    and what about all the BSD code in Winders.... Yes it is sprinkled all through it. Look at the CL FTP client. Also what about SFU (Services For Unix) This is built on Open Source.

    Guess Steve will have to sue himself!

  • by Himring (646324) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @11:12AM (#10853761) Homepage Journal
    "Today Microsoft warned several Asian countries that using Linux could subject them to lawsuits, claiming that Linux violates '228 patents'. Apparently, Steve Ballmer believes he can enforce U.S. law in Asia."

    "In a related story, Ballmer is suing Sony for allegedly producing an inferior product, Dance Dance Revolution, which he claims cannot stand up to 'real dancing.' Ballmer has reportedly broken 10 of the devices made for the PS2 doing, as he calls it, 'muh jiggy wifit foot stompin' moves....'"

    "In yet another unrelated story, neighbors of Steve Ballmer are suing him for scaring their children with, as they explain it, 'producing high-pitched, glass-shattering, woman squeals.' Ballmer denied the allegations claiming that such noises are natural when 'getting jiggy wifit....'"

    "I hear there's rumors on the Internets that we're going to have a draft." --George W. Bush
  • Desperation (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 4of12 (97621) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @11:15AM (#10853797) Homepage Journal

    Paraphrasing from Mark Twain, "the threat of legal action is the last refuge of a scoundrel."

    Steve Ballmer has an uphill battle to regain credibility among IT decision-makers if he has to abandon a tactic of directly comparing Microsoft's products to Linux and FOSS on the strict basis of features, price, bugs, security, standards adherence, kindly upgrade path lacking forced obsolescence, licensing terms, etc.

    At least in the developed world where Microsoft has dominated the marketplace for years he can always bring up the Windows to Linux migration cost (neglecting to mention anything about the Windows to Windows migration costs) and backward compatibility to bolster his argument.

    With this level of desperation, and with SCO's case foundering, MS may decide to fight more openly against Linux in the legal arena. But making such a move is risky from a PR perspective because it will cast MS in a bad light, opposing freely-available, zero-cost technology that helps anyone who cares to use it. While MS might be losing millions of dollars as companies choose FOSS in place of Microsoft products, it's not as if intellectual property violations (if they even exist) cause an equal - or even comparable - slide of millions of dollars into the pockets of greedy IP violators. Rather, most FOSS developers have minuscule wealth compared to Microsoft and stand to gain much less by contributing their work to the world at large. Pressing IP claims against software available to anyone and independently contributed by someone working from scratch in their garage at night is likely to smack of a David vs Goliath dispute, with Goliath wanting his tax from everyone else and David wanting to let the people keep their money.

    Additionally, in the developing world they must regard claims of ownership of intellectual property as a curious and amusing Western contrivance for making money and preserving wealth, especially in light of the more preposterous patents that the USPTO has given over the last number of years.

  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @11:18AM (#10853845) Homepage
    "...In my opinion, Linux is thoroughly infested with patent violations. I have in my hand 228 cases of pieces of code which would appear to be either card-carrying patent violations, or certainly disloyal to the cause of intellectual property, but which nevertheless are still helping to shape the functioning of Linux..."

    (if you don't get it...) [wikipedia.org]
  • Insolence! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by danila (69889) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @11:22AM (#10853912) Homepage
    You gotta love it. "Microsoft.. warned Asian governments... they could face patent lawsuits..." Marmoset, meet the 900-pound gorilla. :) The idea of corporations having unlimited power [imdb.com] and almost no accountability is somewhat foreign to the Chinese rulers. This kind of priviledge was historically reserved for the Communist Party, I doubt its leaders would welcome competition from Microsoft. :)
  • WTO (Score:3, Informative)

    by ralphus (577885) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @11:37AM (#10854099)
    Apparently, Steve Ballmer believes he can enforce U.S. law in Asia."

    Apparently the poster has not been paying attention to either the article or modern history. When countries are in the WTO [wto.org], they take place in the World Intellectual Property Organization [wipo.int] also. Laws cross national boundries now.

  • It's Official! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by blueZhift (652272) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @11:43AM (#10854173) Homepage Journal
    I guess it's official, Linux is a real threat to Microsoft's OS dominance. Now that Balmer seems to be going out of his way to put Linux in the limelight, everyone who's been on the fence to this point should take a look and see what all of the fuss is about. Here's a link to the Knoppix [knoppix.org] to help if anyone wants to try before they buy! The Slackware based Slax [linux-live.org] is worth a look too.

    Balmer's attacks certainly mean that the threat on the server is real, but it may also speak to what MS projects on the desktop. No, Linux isn't likely to take the desktop in the US, but MS is probably projecting lowered sales of Windows there too. Why? Because the PC market is reaching saturation with today's machines more than powerful enough to meet the needs of most, which means fewer new PCs will be sold. Most sales of Windows are in new PC bundles. PCs also face competition from other increasingly capable consumer electronics like cell phones, music players, and handheld game consoles. These competing devices are less expensive than a PC and much easier to use. All of this means eroding sales of Windows over the next few years. Microsoft may have been holding out hope that the growing PC market in Asian might rescue Windows, but the Chinese-Korean-Japanese joint Linux venture threatens to close that door. So Balmer is probably getting a little desperate. Personally, I think if Microsoft is to survive, it'll be Bill Gates who figures out what they need to do. I think that in the end Microsoft will have to learn to play nice with Linux just as Sun seems to be doing now.
  • EH? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SillyNickName4me (760022) <dotslash@bartsplace.net> on Thursday November 18, 2004 @11:52AM (#10854306) Homepage
    Ballmar is a complete idiot, and it seems slashdot is good at missing out on news...

    So why is this?

    Well, last time I checked, most of Europe is in the WTO.

    Now, as you can read on Groklaw also, Poland just decided on not supporting the EU software patent proposal, thereby removing the majority that was there, so it seems that patents are a logn way off in the EU for now.

    MS can (and should imho) engorce copyright, but to claim that they can enforce their patents in any country that becomes a WTO member ? From what is happening in EUrope it seems they are more then a bit off there.

    This is a typical case of what can properly be called FUD.
  • by Anita Coney (648748) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @12:15PM (#10854651) Homepage
    ...you threaten to sue customers and potential customers for not buying your product.

    This is REAL bad for Microsoft. First, it shows how much of a threat Linux is.

    Second, those companies and governments he is threatening will think twice about enacting any software patent laws.

    Third, no one likes to be threatened! It's just a simple fact that threatening someone is the worse thing you can do to make someone do what you want. Instantly that "someone" is antagonistic and will try at the first available moment to escape.

    When Microsoft competed against Linux on price and quality it had a chance. Now we know it's over.

  • by mormop (415983) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @12:25PM (#10854785)
    As it shows a degree of panic on Microsoft's part. Ballmer starts out with the assumption that software patents are going to be conditional on entry to the WTO. This overlooks two main points:

    1) The WTO is, by definition, the WORLD Trade organisation. Subserviance to a global Microsoft Patent arsenal would put Microsoft a step closer to killing off any competition from freely distributable FOSS that can be deployed in homes and businesses. As Linux is the only real competition that Redmond have had in the last 15-20 years to surrender to this would be tantamount to giving MS the global software market forever. Future free software development in countries other than the US would be more difficult, possibly impossible, leaving every country in the hands of the MS. Your country disagrees with America? Simple, Homeland security adds you to the export ban list and all of a sudden your DRM permission gets revoked. Far fetched? Manybe, but in the current climate I bet its gone through a few minds in high places.

    2) There are not many countries that trust America at the moment. Europe's nervous about Iraq (why not it's a lot closer to Iraq than the US is), half of the Middle East is keeping its head down while the other half sit wondering whether their next and are probably tooling up just in case. The North Koreans? Wouldn't wanna be in their shoes right now. The Chinese won't want to submit to anyone as their economy's growing fast and they won't want to relinquish control. In short, global software patents suit one country and although Tony Blair will probably prostrate himself on the Whitehouse carpet while swearing to keep the UK government/Microsoft partnership going it's still part of Europe.

    So; Given that the main effect of global software patents will be to kill of any other countries chances of competing with Microsoft, what reason have they got for signing up. If anything, this speech gives Europe and China a sign of the state of things to come adding extra impetus to turn to Mandrake, SuSE, Red Star Linux and forget about software patents for good.

    As SCO come closer to death it's interesting to see Microsoft's anti-Linux activities seeming more desperate as they flail around looking for options however implausible they may be. The ultimate effect of this one though may be the isolation of Microsoft to American territory, their overseas markets cut off by their own hand.

    Incidently, if terrorism is the art of threatening attack in order to influence governments or organisations the tone of Stevey Boys rant could easily be interpreted as such. I therefore suggest that Redmond be declared part of the axis of evil terrorist organisations. A UN force should be deployed in Ballmers office and sanctions be imposed on the evil dictator within. Alternatively, it could be subcontracted to the Israelis who can surround the aforementioned with Tanks, keeping Monkey Boy incarcerated until he's 75 and becomes entitled to utilise the French health service.

    --
    • The whole point of the WTO is to protect companies like Microsoft and extend their monopolies and the legal framework which hold them up to other countries. Of course they're subserviant to Microsoft's patent arsenal.
      • Couldn't agree more but the world trade organisation is still politically driven. Up until now its main use has been as a stick for the rich nations to beat poorer countries into providing them with cheap consumer goods and it's served its purpose well.

        Now the field is changing though. SuSE, although owned by Novell is till a German based company and Mandrake is making its way into the French government although at a slower pace than SuSE's break into Munich. There's a reason why Microsoft is the richest c
  • by Dogtanian (588974) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @12:36PM (#10854939) Homepage
    Considered submitting this version of the story [theregister.co.uk] myself; what makes this one different is the commentary towards the end (edited here):-

    What about all of those countries who're already members of the WTO? They should perhaps also get the message about how Microsoft sees IP law being used in the future. Which might well have a helpful collateral damage effect in Europe, if Europe's leaders are paying attention. Yesterday the Polish Government backed out of support for the EU patents directive, in a move which threatens to derail it... the sound of Microsoft threatening all-out IP war really ought to strengthen the opposition's hand, and make the European Parliament, which opposes software patents, more determined to fight. So well done, Steve, we look forward to the rebuttal.
  • MS Problem (Score:3, Insightful)

    by baggins2002 (654972) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @12:46PM (#10855076) Journal
    They understand the Asian business culture even less than they do the US. When your dealing with Asian culture they will smile and say we are sorry, what can we do to make you happy. While in the background everyone is getting the whips, chains, and tasers.
    All Ballmer did with this statement is acknowledge that they were going to start a business war. What he may fail to see is that the business war has already started. He just told them where they were going to throw a salvo. So now they can posture being defensless and talk and negotiate on this point, while making other plans.

    I really think that his statements were meant for the ear of US businesses.
  • Ballmer and Gates (Score:4, Interesting)

    by neurocutie (677249) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @03:18PM (#10857144)
    My personal theory about why Gates stepped down as CEO, handing the job to Ballmer is that basically Gates is a decent guy who is just interested in technology and tinkering. His foundation (with Melinda) certainly is trying to do some good with all that money. Gates eventually grew tired of all the lying and deceiving that seems to be required (he certainly didn't lie very well in court and the DOJ). Whereas Ballmer clearly has no compunctions about lying and deceiving the public. He doesn't seem to have an ethical bone in his body. My sense was/is that Gates was sincere (however misguided or faulty his technology has been) about trying to do good things for the customer, whereas Ballmer clearly has no true interest in what is best for customer compared with his own self-interests. Gates never talked the way that Ballmer now talks...
    • Re:Ballmer and Gates (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Stevyn (691306)
      That is a very interesting perspective on things. I've never thought about that, but now that you bring it up, it makes sense. I have memories of Bill Gates just saying how good his software was, but never how bad the competition was. Seeing those videos floating around on the Internet certainly highlights the point that Ballmer is bat shit crazy. I don't think he is, but I think that some of the things he says about his competition show he's either lying or just doesn't get it.

      The most important thing
  • Patent ownership (Score:3, Informative)

    by rongage (237813) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @05:26PM (#10858782)

    As I recall, the ownership of these patents has never been revealed. For all we know, these patents could be owned by IBM. I know of one offhand - the RCU patent. IBM has publically stated that this patent is freely available for use within Linux (since they contributed it). Who knows how many other "friendly" patents are in there...

  • by dbIII (701233) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @08:44PM (#10860546)
    Apparently, Steve Ballmer believes he can enforce U.S. law in Asia.
    A common misconception, but with trade deals being tied to adoption of broken US patent laws it may soon become reality.

    Just shift it to a US naval base in Cuba - no law applies there.

  • by hany (3601) on Friday November 19, 2004 @05:03AM (#10862729) Homepage

    ... and any user of Microsoft software (including governments) could also be sued?

    Maybe not sued but they still have to pay (or alredy paid) for such lawsuits. Where does Microsoft get the money from? From customers. Thus, if Microsoft is sued, costs are charged to their customers (more or less directly).

    And IANAL, users can't be responsible for patent or copyright infrigement in software products they did not developed. Only those who actualy put the "questionable" code into the product should be responsible.

    Thus, if customer is charged money for "indemnification" from IP lawsuits related to software he is using then he is not doing good purchase. No metter from whom he is purchasing (Microsoft, Sun, Red Hat, Linus & co., ...) and for what price ($1, $100, $1'000, ...). IMHO.

    The whole "indemnification issue" from (at least some) software vendors looks to me like in best case like "Hey, customer. You know, todays IP laws suks and we are not sure whether we have some stolen-or-something IP in our products so while we do not want to pay the bill for such fucked-up system, you'll pay but to make you more comfortable with that, let us agree that we will call it indemnification and it means we are protecting you from bad-guys.".
    Or, in worst case "Hey, customer. We stole some IP from others and put it into our product. It's great because we make money from you thanks to work of others. And because they may sue us, you have to pay us for indemnification so we do not go out of business. And while today IP laws suks, we can make all this fishy arrangement look like we are doing you a favor.".

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