What was Jeff Bezos, Amazon's CEO, thinking? Amazon just signed a patent cross-licensing deal that pays Microsoft intellectual property fees for, among other things, patents that cover Amazon's Linux-based Kindle e-reader and its Linux servers. Too bad Microsoft has never, ever been able to show that its patents cover anything to do with Linux.
Microsoft claims that Linux and other open-source programs violate its patent rights. They've been making those claims for years. What's always been missing is proof.
Microsoft's biggest lie, first made by Steve Ballmer back in 2004, is that Linux violates more than 200 of Microsoft's patents. There's one little problem with this assertion which has underlaid every Microsoft attack on Linux's intellectual property since then: it's not true.
As Dan Ravicher, the author of the OSRM (Open Source Risk Management) study that Microsoft bases all its claims on, told me at the time that "Microsoft is up to its usual FUD [fear, uncertainty and doubt]." Ravicher, a patent attorney and executive director of PUBPAT (Public Patent Foundation) added, "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."
After years of shaking its intellectual-property saber at Linux companies to little effect, Microsoft apparently has decided that it will go after Linux customers with their unfounded, but scary-sounding, claims. Unfortunately for Linux and open-source software, fool companies like Amazon have brought into this FUD fantasy.
For Amazon, it's probably not much money. Their lawyers clearly didn't do their due diligence, but I guess Amazon didn't mind wasting some bucks. Or maybe they got Microsoft to throw in some cheap Windows licenses to sweeten the deal. But for the Linux businesses and their customers, a major corporation agreeing to pay cold hard cash for some unnamed Linux-related patents is bad news.
Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, may see the deal as a non-issue, but I disagree. I see it as the Microsoft camel getting its nose into the open-source tent.
With this deal done, Microsoft will be better able to bully other companies into paying them for the 'privilege' of using Linux. For Linux and open-source distributors, the Amazon/Microsoft deal sets a bad precedent. We can only hope that only companies will insist on seeing real proof of Microsoft's baseless claims rather than simply paying Microsoft off.