Microsoft vs. Linux vs. Patent Office

If you roll web browser over to the ever so wonderful Digg.com website, you’ll probably notice a lot of talk about Linux, Microsoft, and patents. The basic argument rolls down to this,

Microsoft: Linux violates some of our patents.
Linux Folk: Show us the offending code.
Microsoft: No, but we’re not going to sue you anyway so it doesn’t matter.
Linux Folk: Yea right…

So what you end up with is a lot of back and forth.  Really the debate should have ended with the “we do not intend to sue” remark from Microsoft’s law team.  However, because Microsoft (as well as a lot of other big companies) has a history of suing even after they say they will not, the Linux community is working to find ways to resolve the problem before anything else can happen.

The real heart of the issue is in the United States Patent system.  Our patent system has become so messed up that you can patent just about anything if you are willing to fill out the paperwork and pay the appropriate fees.  There is even a patent for music navigation on a portable device, hence the Creative Labs lawsuit against Apple a year or so ago.  The patent system is suppose to help inventors place a mark on their inventions so that others have to pay them money if others utilize their inventions in a profitable manner, however when you get a patent you have to make the invention’s technology public but in exchange for doing so the invention is limited to use only by you.  And while it is extremely more complicated then that, I just wanted to touch on some of the higher points of the system.

The question at hand is, what exactly can be classified as an invention?  The concept that match, numbers, and binary can constitute an invention is pretty out there.  In fact up until recently the idea of a “software patent” was outrageous and greatly frowned upon.  But we have seen a drastic change in feelings toward this mentality.  A few years ago Europe introduced the idea of software patents and it caused a huge stink, but politics won out and now you can patent software in Europe.  Here in the United States, the laws have not been actually changed, the patent office is just granting the patents where they probably should not be in the first place.  Whether or not this is how things should be is still up for debate though and I have a feeling that it will not be settled anytime soon.

Until the issue is settled, Linux has an uphill battle on its hands because there is always going to be some company out there that will want a piece of the action and will go through any means to get it.  In fact, SCO attempted to sue for intellectual property infringement against Linux but was then sued by Novell because of questions over ownership of said intellectual property.  By the way, SCO is still in court over this issue.  I think that until the question of  “software patents” is answered will continue to see companies threaten the Linux community.

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