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Microsoft claims Linux infringement of intellectual property

Tash Shifrin

Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer has claimed that the Linux open source operating system uses his company’s patented intellectual property.

The statement will stoke fears that the software giant could seek to enforce its claims through patent lawsuits.

In response to a question at the Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) summit in Seattle, US, about Microsoft’s controversial patents deal with Linux distributor Novell, Ballmer said the move was prompted by the Microsoft’s need to protect its shareholders.

“We've had an issue, a problem that we've had to confront, which is because of the way the GPL works, and because open-source Linux does not come from a company - Linux comes from the community - the fact that that product uses our patented intellectual property is a problem for our shareholders.”

In the deal with Novell, Microsoft had “agreed on an IP [intellectual property] bridge – essentially an arrangement under which they pay us some money for the right to tell the customer that anybody who uses Suse Linux is appropriately covered”, Ballmer said.

“There will be no patent issues. They've appropriately compensated Microsoft for our intellectual property, which is important to us.”

Ballmer went on to argue that businesses using Linux could be liable for patent breaches. “In a sense you could say anybody who has got Linux in their data centre today sort of has an undisclosed balance sheet liability, because it's not just Microsoft patents.” he said.

In a statement set to add fuel to the row over the Microsoft-Novell deal, Ballmer claimed, “Only a customer who has Suse Linux actually has paid properly for the use of intellectual property from Microsoft.”

The team behind the open source Samba software last week called on Novell to “undo” the deal, arguing that the Linux distributor was “exchanging the long term interests of the entire Free Software community for a short term advantage for Novell over their competitors”.

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