Mon Aug 2 13:28:03 2004 The Patent Referencing: https://news.com.com/Group%3A+Linux+potentially+infringes+283+patents/2100-7344_3-5291403.html?tag=st_lh
While focusing a lot of attention on the SCO Lawsuits, the Linux community hasn't paid much attention to patent and copyright threats. There's seemingly a smug confidence that these threats aren't real, that no harm will come from them.
Let's hope that is true.
In the real world, however, the 283 possible patent infringements should be cause for alarm. Yes, some are held by present day allies, but today's allies can be tomorrow's enemies. Linux fans tend to easily forget that corporations like IBM and Intel have no emotional or philosophical attachment to Linux. They embrace Linux only because it suits their purposes at this moment - and most of that is simply because they see Linux as their best way to keep Microsoft in check.
But even if you could somehow guarantee their continued loyalty and support, there are close to 200 other patents that could be trouble, and some of them are held by Microsoft, who will absolutely use them against Linux if it can.
Of course, there is that "if it can". Patents are often just the pretext that is used for the threat of lawsuit. The patent itself may be weak, but the expense of a suit is sometimes the real threat. You threaten, offer a reasonable licensing fee, and they pay up because its cheaper than court. That works quite well with ordinary competitors, but Linux isn't "owned" by anyone. It is much more difficult to sue Linux - you can go after individual users, but that's expensive for Microsoft too. Their pockets are deep indeed, but there are limits, and a loss because of a weak patent wouldn't be good. If Microsoft does pursue something like this, they'll undoubtedly pick the reason and the target carefully. They need a strong patent and a big target - yet perhaps not too big, because that's the other side of the patent game: threaten IBM with a patent and they go looking for patents they hold that you are infringing upon.
But that doesn't mean that the Linux community should be complacent. There's danger here, and lack of immediate action doesn't mean it will be that way forever.
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