back to article Microsoft and Linux trade patent words in Europe

Microsoft has teamed with General Electric to petition European regulators on a fundamental principle that will continue to drive a wedge between the company and open source supporters. The duo filed an amicus brief arguing that regulators should believe in the existence of patents in software and that these patents should …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tomtom covenant

    It's worth remembering that Microsoft's action came just 2 days after Tom Tom announced that if things got worse then they would be in violation of loan covenants. Yet the patent wasn't new. What was new was the temporary weakness of Tom Tom.

    If the US system of 'patent everything' and endless lawsuits from trolls is working, then why is their economy in free fall?

    They tried to build an economy in which they can buy and sell the RIGHT to make something, but ended up just killing their own industry with endless troll lawsuits. Now, even the fact they have the worlds reserve currency and can print money, it cannot save them.

    You cannot export a lawsuit, you cannot package lawsuits into bonds, and sell those bonds on. You cannot make an economy of lawsuits and IP lawyers. Why do you think only a tiny fraction of new technology is ever launched now in the US?

    You CAN build an economy making things and exporting them, but you CANNOT build an economy on PREVENTING people making things and NOT exporting them.

    Microsoft is toast and they know it.

  2. Tom

    Ah patents

    can you imagine if lawyers had to pay everyone who established bits of case law a cut of their earnings, or if we had to pay for the act of walking from our work station to the printer to pick up a printout cos someone with enough money had patented that as a business innovation?

    Its laughable I know but thats what software patents set out to do.

    I bet the mafia wish they'd thought of software patents first.

  3. Doug Glass

    Not To Worry, She's Just Warming Up

    I hear the fat lady clearing her throat.

  4. Anonymous Coward

    Why should the EU listen to Microsoft...

    ....or even allow them to continue trading with the EU when they still haven't paid their enormous fine? Exactly how many years can they be allowed to continue giveing the EU the finger?

    I still don't understand how the EPO issued patents for software, in the face of European patent law and why the people running the EPO haven't been changed for other who will uphold EU law instead of taking orders from American lawyers with deep pockets.

  5. Rowan Wilson

    No royalties payable on FAT patents

    "Eventually, TomTom agreed to pay royalties to Microsoft to license the three FAT patents."

    That's not the case. Microsoft's own account of the settlement


    "The agreement includes patent coverage for Microsoft’s three file management systems patents provided in a manner that is fully compliant with TomTom’s obligations under the General Public License Version 2 (GPLv2)."

    Paying royalties on copies of GNU/Linux would not be compliant with Tomtom's responsibilities (GPLv2 s7) as a distributor. Given Tomtom's commitment to rip out FAT from their products, it's possible that the deal was 'stop infringing on our FAT patents within two years and we'll give you coverage for free until then'. Alternatively it could have been a Novell-style 'we wont sue each other's customers once this deal is struck'. Either way - it cannot have been royalties on copies of GNU/Linux.

  6. Martin Coule
    Gates Horns

    Totally one sided or what?

    I'm sure this topic has been dealt with extensively elsewhere, but it seems wrong to me that a computer program can be patentable. A patent is for an invention or for a process - something is produced. You cannot patent an idea - so Einstein could not patent his equations, which to my mind are every bit as complicated as a program.

    Already we have significant lock out of the market for small/lone developers - it seems wrong that foreign corporations can impose their will on the EU for their competitive advantage. We already see this in GPS, where the US has all the toys and won't let the EU play properly. To the extent that the EU has to launch its own satellites. To allow the US to consolidate it's monopoly on operating systems would be criminal, and totally against the long term interests of the EU - as well as stifling innovation.

    That'll be a "no" to patents then.

  7. Stephen Bungay
    Jobs Horns

    Loving Open Source to Death...

    "Microsoft's done much to reach out to open source. It has made Linux and open-source software work better on Windows, released its code under OS-approved licenses, and sent ambassadors to Linux and open-source events."

    Uh huh, just like they reached out to the UNIX and Mac developers with "WISE", which was supposed to allow programmers to write against Windows APIs and run their programs on Macs and UNIX systems. When enough developers bought in they extended the API without putting those extensions in WISE. The applications then only worked well on Windows, and would not port smoothly to UNIX or Mac. M$ continued to lead developers into believing that the software was still fully cross-platform when it was not. (1)

    Anyone who thinks that M$ is reaching out to open source had better remember and learn from history.

    Don't make a deal with M$, you can only trust that any deal they make is for their benefit.

    (1) Source: Microsoft, A history of Anticompetitive Behavior and Consumer Harm.

  8. Fatman
    Gates Horns

    M$ and Open Source

    I would advise Open Source advocates to treat M$ like a wolf in sheep's clothing. They may appear to be "friendly"; but you know that it would be 'baaaad' (sorry, but I could not resist) to trust them with your life. Ultimately, they (M$) will eat you for lunch if you get too close. Do NOT give them the opportunity!

  9. Julian
    Thumb Down

    No thank you very much

    I think we are entitled to choice, competition, innovation free from the influence of Microsoft and the American way of settling things. Smaller companies would be driven out of business and patent trolls would flourish.

    Whether I like Microsoft software or not, I would like to make up my own mind about which software to use and, in particular, I really want a choice of vision for the future, not just a single product and a single vision, take it or leave it, from the playground bully.

    Plagiarism and outright theft of code should, of course be wrong. Surely then copyright is the appropriate mechanism for protection of software from such.

    Furthermore, the British and European laws and justice system have developed in a different environment from the USA and we should not look to have our jurisdiction suborned and subservient to the USA.

    Big Business has considerable sway with our own government, but in America Big Business, so we understand, cracks the whip.

    Again, no thank you very much and, by the way lets have equality of pricing.

  10. Julian

    And then there is the old chessnut

    We do not know how much offending code there is in Microsoft's products. On the balance of probabilities, plenty, but we just don't know as they devote so much time and energy to maintaining secrecy, particularly in dodgy deals.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Is the author really serious ?

    "Microsoft's done much to reach out to open source. It has made Linux and open-source software work better on Windows, released its code under OSI-approved licenses, and sent ambassadors to Linux and open-source events." Yeah, sure! And I personally had the chance to meet the Tooth Fairy who...

    Come on, El Reg, let's not be silly!

    Oh, and by the way, can you please enlighten us by telling how exactly is Linux supposed to work on Windows ?

  12. Goat Jam
    Gates Horns


    Microsoft, who have turned the process of stealing others ideas into an art form , are at the forefront of a movement that is supposedly intended to stop the stealing of ideas from others.

    I guess they figure that they have enough money and high price liarwers to simply browbeat most companies into submission.

    Quite simply, the sooner MS die, the sooner the IT industry can start moving ahead again.

    And where the hell is the Evil Ballmer icon?

  13. Martin Usher

    A lot of reinvention

    The problem with software patents in the US is that they're not just patenting methods but they're invariably patenting something that's common knowledge -- its not about invention, just a land grab. The patents that I'm aware of from my work include such things as an invention that claims that a framing pattern can be used to align data bits in a data stream (seriously -- the idea that maybe that's why it was called a "framing pattern" in the first place eluded both the inventor, the inventor's bosses and, of course, the patent examiners). I can't comment on FAT patents but I know that support for this technology -- a technology that predates Microsoft, curiously enough -- is included for compatibility, not to undermine the core business of Microsoft and rip off their profits.

    Software patents demonstrate an atrophied, stagnant, business. You can't innovate so you litigate. This is the same kind of business mindset that has brought our country to brink of ruin -- making property out of thin air, a business out of selling nothing. Its a culture in decay.

  14. asdf

    euros save us

    This is an issue as an American I say we have totally FUBARed. I hope Europe does the right thing and stand up for innovation and pronounce software patents as anticompetitive as well as immoral. The megacorporations do not have societys best interest in mind. I fear though that a massive amount money as well as Republican goons leaning on the EU will damn us all. Sigh I guess tomorrows society will be decided by the courts in the Eastern district of Texas. God help us all.

  15. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    Not clear that TomTom paid for FAT patents

    There were several patents involved in the deal, some of them for hardware. TomTom settled because the cost of fighting was large compared to the cost of settling. Microsoft settled because the terms of the deal included secrecy about how weak the FAT patents are. The idea is to say "TomTom settled" to everyone else who uses free/open source without mentioning that using free/open source software was not the real issue between TomTom and Microsoft.

    "OSI approved" license means nothing in the open source world. The OSI approved lots of licenses - some good and some poor - and many incompatible with each other. In short, if it is not GPL or a BSD variant, then checking the license allows what a programmer wants to do and is a real barrier against misuse costs more effort than finding another piece of code with a GPL or BSD license.

    Microsoft like to send press releases about making friends with open source but their business model depends on technology lock-in. Many free/open source users and developers place a lot of value on the absence of technology lock-in. Free/open source users are not going to change their minds, and I do not see Microsoft changing while they still have cash to burn.

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  17. Gerry

    The real issue seems to be...

    It seems to me that software patents are a neat way of engaging in anti-competitive practices. And if you are going to defend an alleged infringement of a software patent you seem to need a lot of money. And that makes is a "big boys" game.

    In the Free Software world we now have to rely on "protection" broadly equivalent to that in the reported stories of inner city London where young people have to join one gang in order to gain protection from violence from other gangs (the analogy being OIN). While OIN show all the signs of being well-intentioned I'm not sure that having to rely upon "benign protection" is a great place to be.

    The reality for small innovators is well described in another area of "IP" protection. Does anyone remember MobiliX? describes the efforts (in 2003) of designers of a mobile platform based on GNU/Linux to use that name for their software but of course they didn't have much money.

    Contrast this with France Telecom who spent three years to take the very same plantiff all the way to the ECJ regarding the very same name. (search on this website

    And explain to me the difference in outcomes in terms other than power and money.

  18. Maty

    The good news?

    Is that patents run out - eventually. So once the 'press a key and see the result on the monitor' type patents have expired, then because these patents were so general, everything remaining will be unpatentable.

    Next thing to watch for is a big push by the software companies to get patents extended, in the same way that the music industry, having killed music as an art form, extended copyright to cover real music that was about to come into the public domain.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tunnel Vision

    If you can rise above your national,regional and occupational bias you'll realize that the biggest patent problems are those involving medicines and medical technology. For example, there are still far too many ancient inefficient MRI units around because of the inflated cost of the newer better faster models.

  20. The Fuzzy Wotnot

    MS support OSS though!

    "Microsoft has teamed with General Electric to petition European regulators on a fundamental principle that will continue to drive a wedge between the company and open source supporters."

    B-b-b-but MS are our friends, they are going to support open source, they said so in all their PR! They wouldn't lie would they just to make them seem more friendly to CTOs and the potential loss of sales to Linux in the business server sector?

    Once a wolf, always a wolf regardless of how good your woolly coat is!!

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    No deal with MS

    Rip FAT out of TomTom-like systems. Instead providers drivers etc to that Windows can access ext3 (or whatever). This could be done as part of the normal TomTom-like client install.

    Then tell MS to talk a long walk off a short pier (preferably wearing ye olde diving boots).

    MS began with the dubious deal shall on QDOS. They have carried on this model of slash and burn until today. Unfortunately Vista has caused enough of a shit-storm for people to at least recognise Linux (if not actually use it). This is what MS now must crush if their house of cards is to remain standing.

  22. Steve B

    My editor...

    At Uni in 1973, I designed and wrote an editor for microcomputers that enabled files to be edited in situ on disc, whereas previously they had been on paper tape and edited offline on a teletypewriter. This formed my coursework submission for my degree. If software becomes patentable, does this mean that every editor after that point is infringing my supposed patent?

    In the 70s I also wrote a program to enable data held on microcomputer memory storage to be edited insitu and also transferred securely using communications lines back and forwards to other computers including mainframes. This supposed patent is a forerunner to web browsing today where information held on microcomputers (PCs) is transmitted backwards and forwards to other computers, ie the web is mine!

    This shows what complete and utter Bollox the idea of software patents are.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    Re: Tunnel Vision

    "If you can rise above your national,regional and occupational bias you'll realize that the biggest patent problems are those involving medicines and medical technology."

    Many of us who are against software patents and who have campaigned against them are aware that the patent system is detrimental in other areas, but we don't have the familiarity with those areas that you might have. Moreover, in attempting to broaden the debate, we sometimes get accused of straying off our own turf and onto someone else's. If we confine our efforts to our own profession, it isn't tunnel vision: it's about dealing with a problem in our own domain where we have the confidence to make our case.

    So, if you'd like to remove harmful artificial monopolies from your field of work, I'd advise you to join up with people campaigning against patents in other fields, including software development, and try to build a broader coalition - I think you'll find that there's plenty of interest.

  24. Eddie Edwards

    @ AC

    " the biggest patent problems are those involving medicines and medical technology"

    There aren't significant patent problems in the medical industry. There, patents are awarded on the back of serious research taking serious capital. Patents are required in that industry for those amounts of capital to be made available. The system is working pretty much as designed.

    In the software industry, patents are awarded on the back of obvious implementations. Patents are not required to protect capital (instead we have copyrights). The system serves no purpose, but costs the industry a great deal.

    A misunderstanding of this issue on your part does not constitute a collective bias on everyone else's.

  25. Steven Hunter
    Thumb Down

    What does this mean exactly?

    "...rules and methods of performing mental acts..."

    Wait wait wait... Is someone trying to patent *thinking*?

  26. Anonymous Coward

    @tunnel vision

    AC you must be very young if you think there is such a thing as an ancient MRI. I do agree with your comment though, especially the patenting of genetic material - how utterly absurd.

  27. Rex Alfie Lee
    Jobs Horns

    Gavin Clarke, M$ Stooley

    "Microsoft's done much to reach out to open source. It has made Linux and open-source software work better on Windows, released its code under OSI-approved licenses, and sent ambassadors to Linux and open-source events."

    What a croc Gavin! M$ has done everything it can to shut down Open Source & especially Linux. They do what they do begrudgingly as always because their bottom-line is no longer as protected as it once was.

    M$ financed SCO in their failed attempt to destroy Linux using finance provided by their own hidden sub-companies. M$ continues to this day attempting using very underhanded means to maintain its monopoly, most recently with Yahoo, by casting out commentary against the CEO on an anonymous basis to undermine that CEO's reputation. Like many before him he left. M$ have many ways of defaming people in organisations they want or for industries they want to control like what they tried to do with Java & succeeded for a while. M$ always has been & remains a company of manipulation & poison.

    A company with any sense would never trust them.

  28. Anonymous Coward

    @Steve B

    " At Uni in 1973, I designed and wrote an editor ... .... If software becomes patentable, does this mean that every editor after that point is infringing my supposed patent?"

    No (un?)fortunately patent law was different at the time and things like that could not be patented. Otherwise all the major IT companies that are around now, would not have been able to grow that large to begin with.

    First they used the lack of software patents to grow huge, then they lobbied to change patent law to close off the market for other players.

    "This shows what complete and utter Bollox the idea of software patents are."

    Completely agree. Patent law as it is in the US will pave the way to corporate states and will stifle real innovation (no MS, what you're calling innovation is called plagiarism if you were selling books).

  29. SynnerCal

    Please no to US stupidity

    I would have thought that any half-competent MSP would take one look at the mess over in the US and decide that we don't want that kind of legal 'drive by shooting' over here.

    Also, I'm vehemently against the idea of software patents. To me patents only apply to devices - you know them things you can bruise yourself on. So, I've got no problem with - for example - IBM patenting a new SAN controller, but I don't agree that Lotus Notes needs a patent. (Apologies for picking IBM as an example - no insult meant).

    As I'm sure others have said, programs are expressions of ideas along the ideas of novels etc (both are merely collections of symbols that mean something when given in a specific order). So by all means apply copyright, but never patents. Although I'm pretty pro-OpenSource, so I'm not advocating a flood of copyright filings either. ;)

    I'm also kind of confused by the pro-patent grouping - Microsoft I can understand, but GE?

  30. jake Silver badge


    "I'm also kind of confused by the pro-patent grouping - Microsoft I can understand, but GE?"

    You'd be surprised how much software is written by Fortune 50 corporations. It's a little known fact, but Boeing's fairly proprietary internal network was larger than IBMs until roughly 1987, when IBM's internal network expanded almost exponentially.

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