Reminiscent of the much-discussed deal with Novell, Microsoft has entered into a patent agreement with Amazon, in which both companies promise not to sue one another over patent-related issues. So far, that doesn’t sound all too uncommon, but what makes this one stand out is that Microsoft explicitly mentions Amazon’s use of open source technology such as Linux, rekindling an old claim from Microsoft.
Patent cross-licensing agreements are anything but special, and are struck around the world all the time. Microsoft, the largest software company in the world, is probably sitting on a massive pile of patents, making it an attractive partner in patent cross-licensing agreements. Now that Amazon has become a soft and hardware company as well, it only makes sense for them to cover their bases.
Under the agreement, Amazon promises to pay Microsoft an undisclosed sum of money, which could indicate that Amazon is trying to ward off a patent lawsuit from Redmond. The deal obviously gives both companies access to each other’s patent portfolios.
What makes this deal special is that it brings back memories about the patent cross-licensing agreement Microsoft struck with Novell. In the press release, Microsoft specifically mentions open source and Linux as being covered by the deal, which means that Amazon further solidifies the patent threats Microsoft has made on occasion towards Linux and the open source community.
“The agreement provides each company with access to the other’s patent portfolio and covers a broad range of products and technology, including coverage for Amazon’s popular e-reading device, Kindle, which employs both open source and Amazon’s proprietary software components, and Amazon’s use of Linux-based servers,” the press release states.
“We are pleased to have entered into this patent license agreement with Amazon.com,” says Horacio Gutierrez, corporate vice president and deputy general counsel for Intellectual Property and Licensing at Microsoft, “Microsoft’s patent portfolio is the largest and strongest in the software industry, and this agreement demonstrates our mutual respect for intellectual property as well as our ability to reach pragmatic solutions to IP issues regardless of whether proprietary or open source software is involved.”
Since Microsoft never provided any insight into the supposed 200+ patents Linux infringes upon, the general assumption has been that the claim is bogus, and nothing but “FUD”. However – and this is the really scary part – Amazon is no small fish. They’re a big company, and most certainly have an extensive set of patent experts that have pruned Microsoft’s patent portfolio regarding open source components in use by Amazon.
In other words, as much as I dislike the whole software patent mess, and Microsoft’s threats in particular, Amazon is not some small company that can be bullied into an agreement – I’m sure Amazon signed the patent agreement because, well, they found that Microsoft’s claims are valid. It’s not something I want to hear, nor is it something that should be possible, but the law is, sadly, the law.
After Novell and Tom Tom, this is yet another major company which solidifies Microsoft’s patent claims. Maybe, just maybe, Microsoft simply has a point with their 200+ patents claim? I dislike that idea as much as anyone, but it might be time to accept that this could very well be reality.
Of course Microsoft has bunches of patents which can be applied to various things in a Linux distribution. Most likely all major software companies have some, seeing how wide patents can be and the raw number of applications made. It seems unlikely that Microsoft has any complaints which are sufficient to make bringing the patents to court (which would gain them little even if they were to win) however. There is probably a deal involving a collection of actually interesting patents at the bottom of this, but a grab-bag cross-licensing deal is bound to involve a lot of iffy stuff as well.
The patent system is quite broken, and one can’t really blame Microsoft for taking part, since it is more or less a question of a cold war mutually-assured-destruction kind of environment between corporations.
Edited 2010-02-23 16:16 UTC