Microsoft and Amazon have entered into a patent cross-licensing deal that covers, among other things, Amazon’s Kindle and its use of Linux-based servers. The agreement calls for Amazon to pay Microsoft an undisclosed amount of money.
Microsoft has forged similar deals with other companies that market Linux or use it in their own operations, raising hackles in the FOSS community. The latest deal renews questions about Microsoft’s intentions.
At one time, it openly opposed open source, but in recent years, Microsoft has come to adopt a far more pragmatic approach that’s typified by such cross-licensing deals, said Laura DiDio, principal of ITIC.
“It makes more sense for companies to make nice and do a cross-licensing agreement — Microsoft has come to realize that legal action is often more costly than it is worth,” she told LinuxInsider, pointing to the years of wrangling between Sun Microsystems and Microsoft.
Another reason to pursue such deals, DiDio added, is that they are looked upon favorably by the European Commission.
TomTom Under the Gun
Not quite a year ago, though, Microsoft did take the legal route, filing a lawsuit against TomTom, which countersued with charges of its own.
Because three of the patents that Microsoft challenged were based on Linux technology, many FOSS supporters believed Microsoft was using the courtroom to launch a stealth attack against Linux.
However, the TomTom case should be viewed not as evidence of Microsoft’s antagonism toward open source, but as reinforcement of the notion that it is committed to a strategy of cross-licensing, DiDio argued.
“I think Microsoft saw this as a legitimate infringement on its technology and TomTom wouldn’t come to the table to negotiate,” she maintained.
Microsoft claimed it had tried to engage TomTom in licensing talks for more than a year before it decided to go to court.
Same Goal, Different Tactic
Cross-licensing is just a shakedown tactic on Microsoft’s part, suggested Techdirt blogger Mike Masnick.
“Every few years, Microsoft tries to convince the world that Linux violates its patents,” he wrote. “These sorts of ‘we won’t sue you, if you don’t sue us’ deals are pretty common in the tech world, and hardly noteworthy, other than the fact that apparently some of the patents Amazon are getting protected against being sued over concern how it uses Linux.”
In the end, Amazon still had to pay cash to Microsoft, on top of effectively paying more by licensing its own patents, noted Masnick. “It does seem pretty problematic, doesn’t it, when a company has to ‘pay’ Microsoft (whether in cash or via licenses to its own patents) just to use Linux? Perhaps it’s time to redefine the ‘Microsoft tax.'”
Hardly a White Flag
Opting to pursue cross-licensing agreements certainly doesn’t mean that Microsoft has waved a white flag regarding the issue of open source, said Al Hilwa, IDC’s program director for application development software.
It still is not crazy about the movement, but “just because something is open source doesn’t mean it is free for anyone to use,” Hilwa told LinuxInsider.
“Most licenses are designed more to protect than to open,” he said. “That is what companies try to do with these agreements — make the code ‘open source’ enough so people can look at it while not allowing them to steal the idea and profit before you.”