Microsoft Strikes Another Sketchy Linux Patent-Protection Deal

by Ostatic Staff - Jul. 16, 2009

As Mary Jo Foley notes, Microsoft has announced yet another Linux patent-protection deal. We wrote about a similar patent-protection deal between GPS manufacturer Tom Tom and Microsoft here, following a very public squabble between the two companies. This time, Melco Holdings, a Japanese company that owns network storage and router player Buffalo Inc. has a deal with Microsoft, "that will provide Melco Group’s customers with patent coverage for their use of industry-leading technologies running Linux and other related open source software." These deals are very murky and difficult to get a handle on, especially since the settlements leave no public trail leading to what exactly Microsoft claims ownership of.

As we noted here, when Tom Tom countersued Microsoft in its dispute, Microsoft's Horacio Gutierrez stated that its lawsuit in that case was not an attack on the Linux kernel as whole, although many in the open source world saw it that way. Some observers felt that Microsoft's FAT32 file system patents were central to that dispute, but the whole thing was murky. In Microsoft's latest release, addressing its deal with Melco Holdings, there is this:

"We are pleased to reach this agreement with Melco Group,” said David Kaefer, general manager of Intellectual Property and Licensing at Microsoft. “Many companies have entered similar agreements with Microsoft covering their Linux-based offerings, something that is a reflection of both Microsoft’s decades-long commitment to R&D in the operating system space and the high-quality patent portfolio we’ve developed through our R&D efforts.”

Hajime Nakai, director and member of the board at Buffalo has this to say in Microsoft's release:

“While we plan to increasingly adopt Windows Storage Server for our NAS business, we also wanted to ensure that our open source and Linux-embedded devices had the appropriate IP protections. By collaborating with Microsoft on a practical business solution, we are able to provide our customers with the appropriate IP coverage, while also maintaining full compliance with our obligations under the GPLv2.”

It's beginning to look like Microsoft is frequently the toll booth that almost everyone has to stop at when delivering Linux-based offerings, and Microsoft has previously suggested that Red Hat violates its patents. Microsoft has not stated which patents are at issue in the Melco instance, though, even though the Linux community has requested that it be more transparent about these issues. When will the company heed that call?