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15 May 2007
Microsoft is following in the footsteps of SCO in claiming that Linux users should be paying them a license fee for the use of software that Microsoft have had no help in creating.
Fortunately for those of us in Europe this will not directly affect us. The European parliament has seen sense and ruled that Software cannot be patented. See: BBC News - Software patent bill thrown out. Unfortunately the fall out of Microsoft abusing their Monopoly position could have far greater ramifications for the entire software industry.
For the rest if Microsoft is successful then this could have wider implications for everyone. It could take their monopoly to new heights allowing them to charge for software that they have nothing to do with and use it to crush even the small amount of competition that they have at the moment.
I'd already raised these concerns against my European MP, but like most MPs they had no real idea about the issues and dismissed these suggestions. Thankfully some other countries appear to have more switched on Euro-MPs.
It's hard to describe how trivial software patents are, and how they impact all software produced. Here is an attempt at explaining it in lay terms - imagining a hypothetical Film Story Line patent.
If film story lines could be patented the same way that companies try to patent software then we could have something along the lines of:
You'd need to pay Disney for a film involving talking bears - they've already been patented through Winnie The Pooh.
You wouldn't be able to have a sunrise without paying a patent fee - that would have been patented by The Lion King
You'd have to pay for magical fairy dust that makes it possible to fly - That would be patented for use in Peter Pan, the copyright belongs to Great Ormond St hospital, but no doubt Disney would actually hold the patent for that aspect
You'd have to pay if you had a happy ending - One or two Disney stories had that in
If you then tried to make the film Shrek then Dreamworks would end up having to pay out on every single one of these, and potentially hundreds more.
This example has trivialised it a little bit, but a single software program could easily breach dozens if not hundreds of patents.
Of course following in the footsteps of SCO could be pretty counter productive. As a result of the legal action SCO is taking they have lost customers, their share price has plummeted and they are risking being de-listed from Nasdaq due to their poor share performance. It looks increasingly likely that SCO will loose their court case against IBM and we can only hope that any claims that Microsoft make against Linux and other Open Source Software (such as OpenOffice.org) are received in the same light. Although we hope that Microsoft sees sense and forgets the whole thing before attempting to destroy the little competition it does have.