On Halloween, the day after we posted an article on Ross Gardler’s presentation on Microsoft’s behalf before an open source audience in North Carolina, a FOSS Force reader posted a comment:
“Microsoft has made a lot of upstream contributions in the last two years, a lot more than our friends at Canonical have.
“I’d say that Microsoft is very difficult to trust, but they are probably more committed to FOSS than Canonical.
“‘We will know that day has arrived when Microsoft quits threatening every open source project under the sun with patent litigation.’
“They haven’t done that in years, unless I’ve missed something.”
That very same day, Halloween, legal papers were filed with the U.S. District Court, Eastern Texas Division, prompting Ars Technica to declare, “Patent Wars Go Nuclear.” By Monday morning, the same reader was adding another comment to the very same article:
“Well, I guess I get to eat these words: ‘They haven’t done that in years’.”
Suddenly Canonical doesn’t look so bad after all, eh?
The legal papers were filed by Rockstar Consortium, a patent troll owned by Microsoft, Apple, BlackBerry, Ericsson, and Sony. They hold 6,000 plus patents purchased in an auction for $4.5 billion from bankrupt Canadian telecom Nortel. Google had been bidding against Rockstar for the same patents, but dropped out after placing a $4.4 billion bid that didn’t hold up. Not long afterwards, Google bought Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion, in large part for its vast patent portfolio–just in case a patent war broke out.
Again, the patent wars have now gone nuclear.
Rockstar is suing Google and just about every manufacturer of Android phones. The suit against Google seems to be mainly against their search technology. The Android makers are accused of infringing on patents dealing with issues such as “Managing a Virtual Private Network” and “System and Method for Notifying a User of an Incoming Communication Event.” To determine infringement, Rockstar engaged in a lot of reverse engineering.
Like all good patent trolls, Rockstar is using everything it can find as a weapon–even Googles $4.4 billion dollar bid to purchase the patents that are now being used against it. Rockstar claims that to be proof that Google already knew it was in violation, paving the way for a finding of willful infringement–meaning damages can be multiplied by three.
Rockstar, by the way, is more than just a convenient way for five companies to throw in together to buy and manage some patents; it’s also a buffer to protect these five companies from counter suits. In addition, it’s a PR tool. Poor little Microsoft or poor little Apple isn’t suing anybody. They have no control over what the big bad folks at Rockstar do. According to Ars, Rockstar is more than willing to play along with that notion:
“And Rockstar’s CEO was quite straightforward about his belief that whatever promises Microsoft and Apple might have made about how they’ll use their patents, those promises don’t apply to Rockstar. ‘We are separate,’ he says. ‘That does not apply to us.’”
One of the partners in this Axis of Evil, BlackBerry, is facing a grim financial situation and until yesterday was looking for a buyer. Indeed, it thought it’d found one. Suddenly, two business days after Rockstar files suit, BlackBerry is no longer for sale, it’s CEO is stepping down and it’s being handed a billion bucks to buy it some time–presumably until it can collect its share of the patent loot. Could this be because of pressure from the other Rockstar partners in order to keep Google from being able to buy the beleaguered company and its stake in the patent partnership?
Remember SCO? Does history repeat itself?
As this drama plays itself out, either through the courts or through negotiations, Microsoft Open Technologies will continue to claim that Redmond is all about openness. Its mouthpieces will continue to stand before open source audiences and attempt to reassure with platitudes such as, “Microsoft has changed significantly over the last fifteen years, twenty years, thirty years. They’re a much more open company. Microsoft is much more open.”
As open as a locked bank vault.