Here's a brief timeline of M$'s GNU/Linux patent extortion, mostly reported in their own words. It should be seen as part of a much larger attack on GNU/Linux that continues to this day. The picture that emerges is a constant drizzle of FUD, behind the scenes strong arming and finally direct and proxy lawsuits. I'll point to major refutations in this list, but the US Supreme Court has declared business method patents invalid and all but invalidated software patents, and victims having their day in court accuse Microsoft of judicial extortion that amounts to anti-trust. Laws have yet to deter Microsoft so their patent, copyright and marketing attacks on software freedom will continue until the company collapses. M$ is forced to this because no one wants their second rate tech[2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7] and they fail in free markets. Details from the Barns and Noble case prove that the intent was to clearly exclusionary - to saddle free software with higher costs and cripple the feature set relative to Microsoft's own software. Academic studies have shown that software patents are mostly granted to large companies who then extort the majority of people in the industry who neither want nor can afford them.
Microsoft understands that software patents themselves are fraud but has used them against competition since the late 90s and is now an innovator in fraud. Bill Gates ordered the company to start stockpiling patents in 1991 and clearly viewed them as a judicial extortion tool:
If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today's ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today. I feel certain that some large company will patent some obvious thing related to interface, object orientation, algorithm, application extension or other crucial technique. If we assume this company has no need of any of our patents then the have a 17-year right to take as much of our profits as they want. The solution to this is patent exchanges with large companies and patenting as much as we can.
M$ considered patents an anti-competitive weapon against Open Office since 1998 and tried to tax Sun. In 2003 Bill Gates planned to lace metadata and device discovery with patents to exclude Apple. Now, M$ has taken patent fraud a step further by never telling people what patents they violate and threatening end users, much like they paid SCO to do with bogus copyrights. Yes, M$ was responsible for the SCO attack too. Microsoft has launched a loud publicity campaign to shake down companies that have nothing to do with anything owned by M$ as if they were able to charge rent on free software.
The Barns and Noble case is delivering details that prove Microsoft's strategy is to exclude free software from the market by judicial extortion. B&N accuses Microsoft of threatening all Android makers with huge costs to defend against bogus patents if they don't pay licensing fees in excess of those paid for Microsoft's software and also reduce Android's feature set to a point where Microsoft's software is competitive. The feature set reduction goes beyond the scope of the patents used to extort payment. The goal is the same as we've seen in Microsoft's OEM and retail strong arming, to make Microsoft the cheapest and best option in all cases by putting costs and restrictions onto competitors.
Here's nine years of them claiming ownership of all free software and demanding protection money to keep unspecified things from breaking.
2002 - high level planning.
- 9/25 - Jim Alchin at a vendor meeting, "IT WILL be simply, 'Hey, these guys took intellectual property.' And whether the lawsuit comes from Wind River or in X, Y, Z, there's going to be one. Guaranteed"
- 9/27 - Jim Alchin writes, "We need someone to tear down the indemnification offered from RedHat and IBM to customers. We need to understand exactly the risk a customer is under if a patent lawsuit happens and Linux is challenged. ... There MUST be risks to customers that are being passed on. " This email is probably what lead to the whole scam. See also the pdf from Comes vs Microsoft.
Wind River's CEO stated before the US Congress in January of 1994, "My perspective on software patents is simple: stop issuing software patents. Software patents should not exist."
2003 - M$ bankrolls the SCO copyright attack.
2004 - A fraud from day 1, the patent attack is launched.
- 03/12 - Microsoft SCO middleman, Mike Anderer lays out Microsoft's free software patent exclusion strategy, "Microsoft may have 50 or more of these lawsuits in the queue. All of them are not asking for hundreds of millions, but most would be large enough to ruin anything but the largest companies. Red Hat did recently raise several hundred million which certainly gives them more staying power. Ultimately, I do not think any company except a few of the largest companies can offer any reasonable insulation to their customers from these types of judgments. You would need a market cap of more than a couple billion to just survive in the OS space." PJ declares it extortion, using the courts as an aggressive competitive weapon, is a misuse of the legal system. It's a form of blackmail, a leftover artifact from the dot.com bubble days. It can only work for so long before everybody gets sick of it and them and changes the patent laws.
- 04/10 - Microsoft funded bullshitters, Alexis de Toqueville Institution, forecast a patent attack.
- 8/2 - The Public Lie is launched by Dan Lyons on the day OSRI publishes Ravicher's study of patent threats to all software. He boosts patent claims and attacks "Linux zealots" along with Ravicher's reputation. "A report to be released today says Linux may violate nearly 300 patents, including 27 held by Microsoft, and warns that companies using Linux could become targets of multi-million-dollar lawsuits. ... the 12-employee OSRM wants to charge companies $150,000 a year for $5 million in legal coverage that kicks in if they get sued for using open-source programs like Linux. ... [this could scare] customers into dumping Linux and going back to Unix or Microsoft's Windows--products that you don't usually get sued for using. ... The OSRM report represents a new chapter in [the SCO story]." Fellow poison pen author Robert Enderle is quoted saying the same things, making OSRM and the whole story look like a M$ set up from the get go. There are so many lies in this article that it's impossible to tell who's innocent, everyone involved is smeared.
- 11/18 - Threatens government GNU/Linux users, Ballmer told Microsoft's Asian Government Leaders Forum that Linux violates more than 228 patents. ... "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."
- 11/19 - Author repudiates Ballmer's use of his study, "Microsoft is up to its usual FUD [fear, uncertainty and doubt]," said Dan Ravicher, author of the study Microsoft cites. "Open source faces no more, if not less, legal risk than proprietary software. The market needs to understand that the study Microsoft is citing actually proves the opposite of what they claim it does."
- unknown - Long after the fact, Microsoft general counsel Smith revealed customer shakedowns. Since the GPL covered only distributors of Linux, nothing stopped Smith from seeking royalties directly from end users - many of which are Fortune 500 companies [and major Microsoft customers]. [he got deals with] "major brand-name companies" in financial services, health care, insurance and information technology. (He says they don't want to be identified, presumably because they fear angering the FOSS community.) 
2005 More of the same, tired FUD.
- 7/10 - Ballmer FUDs Microsoft's Worldwide partners, Ballmer - again inaccurately - cited an Open Source Risk Management (OSRM) survey from last summer that highlighted the existence of 287 patents in the Linux kernel. "Rumor is Linux violates 286 patents." Microsoft sees the wider implementation of corporation-friendly IP law that is part of the entry ticket to the WTO as being a weapon that can be used against software rivals.
2006 Novell sells out for $400 million. FUDsters rejoice.
- 3/26 - Steve Ballmer threatens all GNU/Linux in Forbes, there are experts who claim Linux violates our intellectual property. I'm not going to comment. But to the degree that that's the case, of course we owe it to our shareholders to have a strategy
- 11/2 - the M$ Novell Patent deal.
- 11/3 - Dan Lyons casts Novell deal as free software failure and claims the deal dooms both Novell and competitors like Red Hat. On Thursday night, I asked Jeff Jaffe, Novell's chief technology officer, if he could think of a company that had partnered with Microsoft and done really well as a result. ... His response: "I think this partnership is breaking new ground." ... the new ground they're breaking is probably Novell's gravesite. Red Hat grew, Novell shrank.
- 11/3 - More FUD from Steve Ballmer, "If a customer says, Look, do we have liability for the use of your patented work? Essentially, If you're using non-SUSE Linux, then I'd say the answer is yes. They'll think twice about [about downloading GNU/Linux]. There are a lot of Linux distributors now [considering a Novell like deal]. All of the sudden you have got Oracle in the game; you've got Red Hat in the game." Red Hat never caved, nothing happened. Both Ballmer and Novell's Ron Hoverspan both stressed OOXML converters for Open Office, but they admit these translators would never work 100%. I don't think they have gotten 10% "interoperability" yet.
- 11/12 - SAMBA team begs Novell to reconsider their M$ patent deal. Many are upset the FSF was not consulted, "The Samba Team disapproves strongly of the actions taken by Novell on November 2nd. One of the fundamental differences between the proprietary software world and the free software world is that the proprietary software world divides users by forcing them to agree to coercive licensing agreements which restrict their rights to share with each other, whereas the free software world encourages users to unite and share the benefits of the software. The patent agreement struck between Novell and Microsoft is a divisive agreement. ... Using patents as competitive tools in the free software world is not acceptable." - From the Samba team letter. FSF lawyer, , explains, "if [M$] succeeds in getting one distribution to pay royalties for the distribution of free software, other distributions will do so. ... That will then succeed in marching the commercial sector away from the non-commercial sector, and Microsoft then will be able to use its patents to sue to block the development of software in the non-commercial sector without the fear of suing its own customers, which is the force that now constrains them from misbehavior with their patent portfolio." It is a good thing that Red Hat and others did not take the bait and that GPL3 thwarted the deal.
- 11/16 - Steve Ballmer explains Novell/M$ deal where M$ gave Novell $400 million, Microsoft signed the deal because Linux "uses our intellectual property" and it wanted to "get the appropriate economic return for our shareholders from our innovation. Novell pays us some money for the right to tell customers that anybody who uses SUSE Linux is appropriately covered. This is important to us, because we believe every Linux customer basically has an undisclosed balance sheet liability. Only customers that use SUSE have paid properly for intellectual property from Microsoft."
- 11/20 - Roger Levy, vice-president of open platform solutions at Novell, told a Paris press conference, "Customers were afraid they'd get sued if they crossed platforms and this meant that they were hesitating on buying decisions. As part of the deal Microsoft will agree not to sue our customers and we agreed not to sue their customers."
- 11/27 - Dan Lyons reports the M$/Novell deal as failure of free software that dooms Novell and all other GNU/Linux vendors. the move is also tried-and-true Microsoft strategy: embrace, extend--and exterminate. It works like this: Partner with a weak, desperate player. ... Develop new features that help you but hurt others (in this case, Red Hat). Weaken everyone in the market, then move on. Yes, he said the same thing on 11/3.
- 12/21 - SAMBA developer, Jeremy Allison,Resigns from Novell over M$ deal.
2007 - "Respecting IP" means paying M$ for things they don't own. Proxy attacks launched which prove that selling out to M$ provides no peace of mind at all.
- 4/14 - Samsung caves to Microsoft extortion and pays for the use of free software. They will later pay fees for Android.
- 5/7 - Dell Sells Out and promisses to promote SLED. Customers overwhelmingly object to the purchase of M$ SLED coupons. This will cost Dell sales and market share.
- 5/14 - Another Forbes attack. The quotes are amazing but Forbes manages to outdo all of the M$ critters he interviews. "We live in a world where we honor, and support the honoring of, intellectual property," says Ballmer in an interview. FOSS patrons are going to have to "play by the same rules as the rest of the business," he insists. "What's fair is fair." Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith and licensing chief Horacio Gutierrez is quoted. Revealing the precise figure for the first time, they state that FOSS infringes on no fewer than 235 Microsoft patents. [Linux kernel 42, 65 GUI, Open Office 45, E-mail programs 15, 68 unspecified and no patent listed. It turns out these numbers came from a study, which concludes that free software infringes less than non free does and the author repudiates Ballmer's assertions, source.] ... "This is not a case of some accidental, unknowing infringement," Gutierrez asserts. "There is an overwhelming number of patents being infringed." To top things off, all GNU/Linux users are threatened again, would Microsoft sue its customers for royalties, the way the record industry has? "That's not a bridge we've crossed," says CEO Ballmer, "and not a bridge I want to cross today on the phone with you." [2, shilled by Ina Fried before Fortune published it, "Last modified: May 13, 2007"]
- 5/17 - Bill Hilf, general manager of platform strategy, "So we have no plans to litigate. You can never say we'll never do anything in the future, but that's not our strategy. ... This isn't like a trivial invention. There are a couple hundred significant patents here."
- 5/24 - M$ refuses to list patents violated for paperwork reasons and threatens Red Hat, Microsoft patents attorney Jim Markwith told OSBC, "The response of that would be administratively impossible to keep up with." ... Microsoft's director of platform strategy Sam Ramji [said], "As a company that puts $7bn a year into R&D, we have a fiduciary responsibility to our shareholders. We have no desire to litigate - we spend $100m a year defending ourselves against patent lawsuits. We continue to offer licensing agreements to distributors of specific pieces of software called out in the [Forbes] article. Red Hat is welcome to come to the table, as is any other distributor."
- 6/4 - Brian Caulfield of Forbes covers the Xandros deal. Microsoft executives are hinting that trouble could be brewing--claiming last month that open-source products are violating 235 of the company's patents. ... Aside from having to endure getting flamed on a few geek-friendly message boards, however, it's hard to see a downside for the 80-employee Xandros. For one downside, read about the destruction of the Ausus EEPC and ponder what the projected $25 million worth of licensing would have done Xandros ($5 x 25 million units, a lowball price estimate).
- 10/4 - Steve Ballmer says Red Hat users owe him money, "I think it's great the way Novell stepped up to kinda say intellectual property matters. When people use Red Hat [shrug], at least with respect to our intellectual property, in a sense, have an obligation to eventually to compensate us."
- 10/21 - M$ proxy Acacia Research launches a patent lawsuit against Red Hat and Novel over a multi-monitor patent. According to Groklaw, this is the first patent lawsuit filed against gnu/linux. Three years later, Acacia loses. Acacia will file more.
- 11/15 - Bill Hilf, general manager of platform strategy, "We would like to strike similar patent deals with all the Linux vendors, but we had to start somewhere."
2008 - lawsuits are good for business
- 02/27 - Garner Group warns the world about the M$ "patent trap.", "Do not use Microsoft's documentation unless you have rigorous processes to keep track of applicable patents. " [quote source]
- 07/31 - Microsoft sues Primax Electronics.
- 10/17 - Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft's top imaginary property lawyer threatens Red Hat, "If every effort to license proves not to be fruitful, ultimately we have a responsibility to customers that have licenses and to our shareholders to ensure our intellectual property is respected." Same old stuff, but he has the nerve to point to the Novell deal as a example of how working with a rival can ultimately benefit both companies, "It is truly a business mechanism to start discussions that weren't possible before." Unbelievable cynicism. [damage control], [perspective 1, 2, 3, 4]
- 11/08 - Phone maker LG is forced to pay the Microsoft tax for free software.
- 11/24 - Most people think Biski ruling is the end of software patents.
2009 Unable to compete in mobile devices and mass storage, M$ launches their own lawsuits and more proxy attacks on free software. Biski ruling has ended the game but M$ and other patent holders pretends otherwise.
2010 Software Patent Armagedon and Meltdown. All sorts of Microsoft trolls launch attacks on Google's Android and everyone sues everyone, proving that arsenals of "defensive" patents were only good for ruining the industry.
2011 - Microsoft Launches More Direct and Proxy Lawsuits Against Free Software. Microsoft becomes more of a patent troll than a software company and other tech "Brands" continue down the path dictated by outsourcing of manufacture and design.
- 01/24 - Microsoft files suit against Tivo and seeks to block import of their set top boxes. Techrights has history and details.
- 02/11 - Microsoft takes over Nokia with a hostile CEO. GNU/Linux is stalled, if not killed, Windows is to be the new platform of choice and both will use patents as a weapon. Elop says, "Microsoft plus Nokia has a remarkably strong IP portfolio, and we will use that appropriately with the context of our ecosystem. ... Ensuring that the value we create with our patents, we can defend from those who may take advantage." It is sad and strange that he thinks that patents are more worth using than Symbian or MeGo and that Nokia is better off as a patent troll and Microsoft supplicant. About a thousand workers disagreed and walked off the job in protest.
- 03/21 - Another direct lawsuit, this time against Android. Microsoft sues Barnes & Noble, Foxconn and Inventec over Android use. Separately, Biski is upheld the way PJ thought it would be.
- 03/25 - Microsoft takes litigation and extortion to a whole new level with a series of vague and insane US State laws against "piracy". The details vary from state to state but the The laws allow Microsoft to block the US company from selling the finished product in the state and compel them to pay damages for what Microsoft says the overseas supplier did.
- 03/30 - Microsoft files anti-trust charges against Google, claiming technical exclusion from Google services. The company has used several proxies, such as TurboHurcules, in the past against free software users and busted Google's rescue of Yahoo and another ad company, but this is the first time they have accused a free software company of Microsoft type API hiding. This is not a patent issue but is mentioned here as a part of Microsoft's long term effort to kill Google and other free software users by regulatory corruption .
- 04/02 - Research in Motion pays toll to Nathan Myhrvold. Intellectual Ventures is a Microsoft proxy. RIM money will be used to exclude free software from the market, so the extortion is more than an injustice to a non free software and device maker.
- 04/19 - Microsoft begs New Zealand for software patents and looks for ways to force them on a government that rejected them. Generally, Microsoft uses flunkies for this kind of work.
- 04/26 - Victim Barnes and Noble describes Microsoft patent licensing as anti-competitive extortion. The company presents outrageous details from Microsoft's attempt to quash Android by making it more expensive and less functional that Microsoft's own software. They also point to the Nokia cooperation as evidence of anti-trust violations in support of a coercive monopoly. Perhaps Microsoft's scheme will collapse faster than I expected.
- 05/27 - Microsoft is officially a patent troll. Just one month after "settling" with HTC, it is revealed that Microsoft earns roughly 5x from HTC Android sales as they do from their own OS. Google charges nothing for Android.
- 05/27 - IV affiliate goes after Android developers after making a feint at Apple developers.
- 06/29 - General Dynamics pays the Microsoft extortion. This won't protect them from Microsoft's affiliated trolls, so the money provides no protection at all.
Loose ends and other resources.
After years of warning people, Roy Schestowitz and Boycott Novell can say, "I told you so".
A list of extorted companies.
7/2 - Xandros devoured by M$ .
8/9 - Linspire destroyed and sued anyway. more
- Corel destroyed by M$ but their Windows platform use gave M$ a much larger handle than patents.
- The constant litigation that reveals their actual respect for imaginary property and belies public statements about never litigating. They violate other people's patents at will and refuse to pay when they lose in court, but they are quick to make threats against free software, demand money from other companies and to use the courts to get it.
- New patent troll companies, such as Intellectual Ventures, being set up by M$ and M$ employees.
Groklaw's Microsoft Novell deal resource page
Boycott Novell's description of the Microsoft Novell deal