Microsoft's Patent on a Pile of Baloney

Opinion: Vigorous defense of patents or shrill play for protection money? Carla Schroder has her suspicions.

By Carla Schroder | Posted May 21, 2007
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"Microsoft patent threat to Linux! The world ... It ends!" shriek the headlines. There's so much hysteria over this it's like a being trapped in pre-teen sleepover. "And when they got home, a bloody hook was hanging from the car door handle!" "SQUEAL!!"

Can we all get a grip, just for a few minutes, pretty please? Ignore all those sources of conventional wisdom who rarely dig into a story, but simply slap together a Frankensteinian blend of warmed-over press releases and quotes from random people who get quoted just because they answered the phone. I know, we all love gossip and drama, but maybe we could put that aside for a little while and at least pretend to be rational, thinking people. Because there is no patent threat. None at all. I know, a lot of Linux fans have nothing to live for if they can't maintain a continual state of righteous indignation against Microsoft. And gosh knows there is plenty to be lathered and dudgeoned about. But there is more to life than being mad all the time, and it's a waste of energy being mad over nothing, which this whole patent hooha is.

We can let the fine spokespersons for Microsoft speak for themselves:

"Gutierrez refuses to identify specific patents or explain how they're being infringed, lest FOSS advocates start filing challenges to them. But he does break down the total number allegedly violated - 235 - into categories."
Microsoft takes on the free world

"We don't believe it's constructive to identify specific products and start labeling them as infringing when responsible companies show an ability to manage patent issues privately."
— David Kaefer, Can Microsoft shelling out for Linux be good?

"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."
— Steve Ballmer, Ballmer Invites Patent Talks with Competing Linux Vendors

Now really. Do you have to be a legal or patent expert to identify a basket of road apples? Isn't this the same tired unproductive passive-aggressive stance that causes marital problems the world over?

"Ok, what's wrong now?"

"You mean you don't know?"

"That's right, I don't know, so that's why I am asking."

(Fit of weeping, loud nose-blowing.) "Well if you don't know, I'm certainly not going to tell you!"

(Weary sigh) "So what do you want me to do?"

(Perks up) "Buying me something useless, hideous, and frighteningly expensive will make it all better. For a little while."

Can they get any more undignified or childish? This is the biggest software company on the planet, and the most obscenely rich company of all time. Yet they pout, throw public tantrums, and emit the most amazing line of pure baloney on a regular basis. Nothing is ever good enough and everyone picks on them, all those mean governments and unhappy users and mouthy Linux hippies and everyone.

All of this blustering and posturing are signs of desperation, a company that has lost its way and cannot find the way back.

There is a saying in the marketing world—the more you mention your competition, the more you show you have nothing. Wouldn't it be a radical concept to focus on promoting the merits of their own products and services, and maybe even telling at least a close approximation of the truth? Though that would require having a product line worth touting in the first place. Though hawking crapware has a long and honorable tradition. People will buy anything.

A lot of people smarter than me are calling this "patent threat" a protection racket, and I have to agree. Microsoft does not know how to compete, and will not (openly) use Free and Open Source software, so now it's trying to place a Microsoft tax on sales of Linux. Just like Tier 1 desktop PC customers pay for a Windows license whether they want one or not. Unfortunately it appears that Novell fell for it, and now Microsoft is trolling for more suckers.

If companies want to appease the bully, that's their business. Some folks fear it will set a legal precedent that could be used against all Linux users, not just commercial Linux vendors. I think that's a pretty remote possibility, though in this here modern world you never know what sort of insanity will triumph. And that's exactly what the root of all of this is — if you're in doubt that a company can be mentally ill, Microsoft's patent shenanigans make the case for it.

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