Intellectual cold war

Like most companies with a clue these days, Microsoft is filing patents. And why not, it’s essentially free money, plus you build up a defensive litigation portfolio. Microsoft has filed over 2,000 patents for consideration in 2004, and plan to break that record in 2005. New York Times points out that Microsoft patents are cited as prior art “in other patent filings somewhat more often than the patents of other technology companies,” including patent-lovin’ IBM.

Patently Obvious points out that MS employs 29 patent attorneys and 2 patent agents – a respectable amount of IP firepower.

All these filings have got the open source crowd a bit worried, as patents can be used defensively and offensively. Open Source Risk Management LLC gathers that, while there are no court-tested patents that could be used against Linux, there are 283 untested patents – 60 of them owned by IBM, 27 of them owned by MS – could possibly be used to sue Linux developers. OSRM does urge calm: “It’s very similar to the result you would get if you investigated any other software program that’s as successful.”

This does suggest that for Linux to avoid death by patent lawsuit in the future, it should also stockpile its own patents. Dan Ravicher, a patent attorney that works for OSRM and the Public Patent Foundation, does point out that nearly half of all patent infringement suits are won in favour of the defendants, making legal challenges against Linux quite risky. So maybe the best course of action is to get some legal advice, but keep churning out that code.

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