Mandriva Linux to Microsoft: No IP licensing deal for us

The CEO decried any need to pay 'protection money'

French Linux vendor Mandriva is the third Linux operating system company in a week to say it's not interested in any licensing deal with Microsoft Corp. to avoid possible patent infringement claims.

In a statement on his company blog yesterday, Francois Bancilhon, CEO of Paris-based Mandriva, said, "We don't believe it is necessary for us to get protection from Microsoft to do our job or to pay protection money to anyone."

Bancilhon acknowledged that several other Linux vendors, including Linspire Inc. and Xandros Inc., recently signed intellectual property and collaboration deals with Microsoft to protect them from potential patent claims related to their software code. Those agreements followed a highly publicized deal Microsoft reached with Novell Inc. involving its SUSE Linux in November.

Such deals have been more common since Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel, and Horacio Gutierrez, the company's vice president of intellectual property and licensing, said last month that open-source software, including Linux, violates 235 Microsoft patents and that the company wants distributors and users of open-source software to start paying royalties for the alleged violations.

Last Saturday, Ubuntu Linux founder Mark Shuttleworthwrote in his personal blog that Ubuntu has no plans to sign a licensing deal with Microsoft, and U.S. Linux market leader Red Hat Inc. has reiterated that it's not interested either.

"Novell, Xandros and Linspire have signed well-publicized agreements with Microsoft," Bancilhon wrote in his blog. "Rumors on the Web have hinted that we might be next on the list. So we would like to clarify our position. As far as [intellectual property] is concerned, we are, to say the least, not great fans of software patents and of the current patent system, which we consider as counter productive for the industry as a whole. We also believe what we see, and up to now, there has been absolutely no hard evidence from any of the FUD propagators that Linux and open source applications are in breach of any patents. So we think that, as in any democracy, people are innocent unless proven guilty and we can continue working in good faith."

Bruce Perens, an open-source advocate and a founder of the nonprofit group Open Source Initiative, said today that Mandriva's stand is the right one. "Microsoft has been buying up deals with little fish and companies that aren't quite making it financially," he said of the Linspire, Xandros and Novell agreements. "So it has been easy for [Microsoft], because they have been going after small vendors and getting them [to sign]."

Jonathan Eunice, an analyst at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H., said Microsoft's deals with Xandros and Linspire don't have the same impact as they would if they had been made with a major Linux vendor such as Red Hat. "I think Microsoft is going to second-tier players, and they're cutting deals with them because they are softer targets," Eunice said. More influential Linux vendors, such as Red Hat and Ubuntu, "don't need to take out the insurance policies" with Microsoft. "Plus, they benefit by appealing to the Linux stalwarts -- those who feel that any deal with Microsoft is tarrying with the devil.

"This is about Microsoft trying to create the image that there's an intellectual property issue with Linux," Eunice said.

Daniel Kusnetzky, principal analyst at Kusnetzky Group in Osprey, Fla., said that smart enterprise Linux users "will watch this but not let it control their decisions."

"Microsoft is trying to get people to move with little or no information on what their patent portfolio contains," he said.

Laura DiDio, an analyst at Boston-based Yankee Group Research Inc., disagreed, arguing that the licensing deals are the right thing for some Linux vendors on a case-by-case basis.

"It makes sense for some of them to do this type of thing and indemnify their customers," DiDio said. "It can impact enterprise users if somebody decides to sue for patent infringement ... and they don't have any protection in place. That is always a danger and always a risk, particularly in large enterprises."

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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