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IT Execs Unmoved by Microsoft's Open-Source Gripes

Vendor claims that Linux and other products violate 235 of its patents

By Todd R. Weiss
May 21, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Microsoft Corp.s claims that open-source technologies infringe on 235 of its patents irked some IT managers last week, while others said they viewed the patent offensive as nothing more than a standard corporate business tactic.

But none of the half-dozen IT executives who were interviewed about Microsofts infringement assertions plan to change their open-source adoption strategies  at least, not unless and until theres a good reason for them to do so.

Among the users in the irked camp was Darryl Lemecha, CIO at data aggregator ChoicePoint Inc. The patent claims sounded like more saber-rattling on Microsofts part, Lemecha said via e-mail.

Darryl Lemecha, CIO, Choicepoint Inc.
Darryl Lemecha, CIO, Choicepoint Inc.
To throw out broad statements to the marketplace doesnt help anyone, he wrote. It creates uncertainty for the open-source community and causes animosity toward Microsoft. No one wins.

ChoicePoint isnt a major user of open-source technology, but it runs Linux servers as well as Unix, Windows and mainframe systems. The Alpharetta, Ga.-based company respects Microsofts desire to defend its intellectual property, Lemecha said. But, he added, the software vendors claims werent specific enough to be worrisome at this point. Nor have they been clear on their planned actions, Lemecha said. We will not change our plans, but we will watch where this goes.

Joe Lindsay, CIO at Secured Funding Corp. in Costa Mesa, Calif., said Microsofts maneuvering may scare some users away from Linux and other open-source software in the short term. Its like saying, I have a big baseball bat, and Im going to hit somebody, Lindsay said. Everyone runs away.

But he predicted that in the long run, Microsoft will suffer the most damage, because it should be focusing more on developing innovative products than on threatening other vendors that have outsmarted it. Their business model is fundamentally changing, and Microsoft is using [the specter of] the courthouse to extend their old way of doing business, Lindsay said.

Just Business

On the other hand, Beach Clark Jr., vice president of IT at Georgia Aquarium Inc. in Atlanta, described Microsofts patent tactic as just business. The software vendor has a right to protect its patents against infringement, Clark said, although he added that comments implying that Microsoft would like open-source users to pay it royalties werent a good PR move.

Patent Math
Microsoft's breakdown of the number of its patents being infringed by different types of open-source software:

Linux's user interface 65 patents
The application suite 45 patents
The Linux kernel 42 patents
Open-source e-mail applications 15 patents
Various other open-source application 68 patents

Microsoft executives first fired the shot across the open-source communitys bow in a story published by Fortune magazine last Monday. In a statement Microsoft issued confirming the patent claims, the company said it was speaking out because of concerns that Version 3 of the GNU General Public License attempts to tear down the bridge between proprietary and open-source technology that Microsoft has worked to build with the industry and customers.

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