In the film, Patton, there is a scene where Patton is pushing his troops to extremes so that he can beat Montgomery in taking control of Sicily. When one of his commanders questions him, he quotes Frederick the Great as saying “L’audace. L’audace. Toujours l’audace” (though I think Danton is the true source and it was “de l’audace, encore de l’audace, toujours de l’audace.”). Well, if this article is accurate about Microsoft claiming that free and open-source software violates at least 235 Microsoft patents, my guess is that in the future the quote will be attributed to Gates or Ballmer. Eben Moglen compares the conflict to Waterloo. Here are some key claims regarding infringement (and yes, the idea is to obtain royalties down the line):
that the Linux kernel – the deepest layer of the free operating system, which interacts most directly with the computer hardware – violates 42 Microsoft patents. The Linux graphical user interfaces – essentially, the way design elements like menus and toolbars are set up – run afoul of another 65, he claims. The Open Office suite of programs, which is analogous to Microsoft Office, infringes 45 more. E-mail programs infringe 15, while other assorted FOSS programs allegedly transgress 68.
As the article notes, the Supreme Court’s recent decision regarding obviousness and patents (KSR v. Teleflex, sorry the link to the case is broken) will likely come into play. Indeed, the article details Microsoft’s push for patents growing from 1,411 applications in 2002 to 3,780 in 2004. Whether those are implicated in the open source software remains to be seen, but given all the patents in play I would predict that the rallying call against corporations, propertization of information, and misuse of power will go out and the battle will commence in courts, academia, and so on. If Moglen is correct that this is Waterloo, the question is for whom? Will many Microsoft patents be invalidated? Will free software be corralled? In addition, the article offers that “More than half the companies in the Fortune 500 are thought to be using the free operating system Linux in their data centers.” Whatever the number, corporations use the software at issue and may want Microsoft to lose but fear the rulings from such a result.
I am sure many of you follow this area more closely than I, so any thoughts are much appreciated.