On Sunday, Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general council, gave an interview to Fortune magazine, where he alleged that OpenOffice.org violates 45 Microsoft patents. The article is about the general assertion that various open source project violate 235 patents where Microsoft claims to be the inventor. However, Microsoft chooses not to name which are the patents or the alleged infringements.
The article shines a broader light on the issues with software patents and gives an informative summary about the Novell/Microsoft deal from late last year. It also exposes some of the conditions that Richard Stallmann, the most ardent defender of open source, puts on journalists in order to grant an interview.
In short Microsoft scares people about alleged patents it holds that are violated by open source projects. It even claims that it made already secret deals with some fortune 500 companies to license these patents. This tactic reminds me of the SCO claim that Linux infringes on its Unix patent portfolio. Under scrutiny of the courts and especially IBM’s ability to deal with patent claims it evaporated into nothing. We will have to see if Microsoft has more legs to stand on. In the mean time one should not be scared, such risks are everywhere.