Practical Technology

for practical people.

Playing Microsoft Patent Poker


It’s become an annual event. Steve Ballmer shoots his yap about how Linux and open source violate Microsoft patents. The open-source community says, “OK, show us your cards, your patents,” and Ballmer shuts up for six months or so.

This time around, though, Microsoft’s FUD campaign is playing out in a different way. First, Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief poobah says those nasty, old Linux and open-source developers are still violating Microsoft’s precious IP (intellectual property). What property?

Come on, by my count, this is the fourth time Ballmer’s made the exact same claims, and not once has Microsoft produced even a solid accusation, much less any proof. And, for the fourth time, the open-source community has asked Ballmer to show his cards, and once more, rather than show his hand, for all intents and purposes, he folds.

This time though, while Ballmer slinks away to try to con … convince people that Microsoft Unified Communications somehow offers people more than what Cisco’s VOIP (voice over IP) been offering customers for years, a patent attack finally launches at Linux. Specifically, IP Innovation, a subsidiary of Acacia Technologies Group, has filed a patent infringement claim against Linux distributors Novell and Red Hat.

So was it just timing, or was it something more? Let’s take a look at the players. Acacia now has two new corporate officers. There’s Jonathan Taub, Microsoft’s director of strategic alliances for the mobile and embedded devices, who’s now an Acacia vice president. And, just days before IP Innovation launched its suit against Red Hat and Novell, Acacia hired Brad Brunell, a top Microsoft executive who was formerly Microsoft’s general manager of IP licensing, as a senior vice president.

Oh, and what’s this? Back in 2006, Jacob Hawley joined Acacia as an engineering VP. Prior to joining Acacia, he was a Microsoft architect.

Of course, it could be mere coincidence that IP Innovation sits down to the table to play patent poker with two Microsoft senior executives helping to guide it. Personally, I’d rather bet on trying to draw to an inside straight. Which, I might add, if you’re not a poker player, is a really, really stupid bet.

Let’s stop pretending, shall we? This is just SCO all over again. We now know that SCO never should have even sat down at the lawsuit table. After all, since Novell literally owned every card in SCO’s hand—the actual ownership of Unix’s IP—the only real reason SCO had to sue was for its insiders to collect money from investors. One of which—Microsoft— bankrolled SCO’s lawsuits with its own roll of cash and with $50 million in chips from BayStar.

SCO is, for all practical Microsoft purposes, completely busted. Microsoft needed a new proxy to throw FUD at Linux and open source, and, whatever else patent troll companies may be good at, they’re certainly great at making good companies look bad.

This time, though, I think that Microsoft has some of its own at the table to make sure that Acacia doesn’t make stupid plays. After all, Microsoft wants to make as much FUD about Linux and patents as it can for as long as it can … just so long as it doesn’t have to sit at the table.

A version of this story was first printed in Linux-Watch.

Leave a Reply