Category: Software
Posted on July 8, 2011 by Gary
Via Forbes:
In the 1980s, attorney Gary Reback was working at Sun Microsystems, then a young technology startup. A pack of IBM employees in blue suits showed up at Sun headquarters seeking royalties for 7 patents that IBM claimed Sun had infringed. The Sun employees, having examined the patents, patiently explained that six of the seven patents were likely invalid, and Sun clearly hadn’t infringed the seventh.... An awkward silence ensued. The blue suits did not even confer among themselves. They just sat there, stonelike. Finally, the chief suit responded. “OK,” he said, “maybe you don’t infringe these seven patents. But we have 10,000 U.S. patents. Do you really want us to go back... and find seven patents you do infringe? Or do you want to make this easy and just pay us $20 million?” After a modest bit of negotiation, Sun cut IBM a check, and the blue suits went to the next company on their hit list.

Android has roughly 10 million lines of code. Auditing 10 million lines of code for compliance with 18,000 patents is an impossible task—especially because the meaning of a patent’s claims are often not clear until after they have been litigated. Most Silicon Valley companies don’t even try to avoid infringing patents. They just ignore them and hope they’ll be able to afford good lawyers when the inevitable lawsuits arrive.

So Android, like every large software product on the planet, infringes numerous Microsoft patents. And Microsoft is taking full advantage. They’re visiting Android licensees and giving the same sales pitch Reback remembers from a quarter century ago. “Do you really want us to go back to Redmond and find patents you infringe? Or do you want to make this easy and just pay us?” Once again, many of the targets are writing checks to make the problem go away.

In software development, in which I myself am gainfully employed, you often find that there's one clear best way of doing something. You may reinvent it without knowing or caring who did it before you. Should that entitle the first person to solve the problem — or the person who patented the solution, who probably wasn't actually the first — to free money from you? That's a bit like saying that I need to cut a check to Karl Fredric Gauss' decendants every time I solve for three unknowns in three linear equations.

Microsoft, of course, doesn't follow its own rules. The Win-D'Ohs operating system borrowed heavily from Mac OS and OS-2. The .NET platform is basically Java with some not-very-useful extra features thrown in. And so on. You'd be hard-pressed to find any product these guys put out that somebody else didn't do first, usually better, and almost always cheaper.

So to all the readers out there -- yes, both of you -- please don't buy any Microsoft products. If you need a PC, get Ubuntu instead. After all, Microsoft will get your money anyway.
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