Google avoids the call to arms

If you go in the way-back machine about four years ago, Microsoft rattled its sabers over the potential IP problems it had with Linux. In a column long ago at NetworkWorld, I regaled Microsoft to file suit, so that the cards would be on the table. The ostensible 100+ patents that Linux ostensibly violated would be researched. In reality, there might be some dues to pay. Linux could walk away, one way or the other, clean. Microsoft didn't do that.

Now, HTC, Velocity Micro, and General Dynamics have paid licensing "protection" to Microsoft, so that they won't be sued over patents Microsoft believes covers Android. There are probably some patent portfolio "exchanges" going on behind the scenes as well, so Microsoft will be additionally held harmless against violating the IP of these companies. Samsung now faces this usury as well.

[Also see: How to get Windows and Linux to cooperate on the network]

Microsoft hasn't sued Google directly, yet. Such a battle would certainly make lawyers rich, and would tie up the US Federal Courts majestically. Oracle's sued Google, but the complaint has been narrowed, and narrowed again - this over misappropriation of Sun technology acquired by Oracle. Microsoft hasn't touched Google, only Google's OEMs of Android products.

But where's the war? Why hasn't Google defended their free, open source software operating system? Google is leading smartphone and tablet shipments of their OS across the planet. Android is now found in a staggering number of places. Microsoft is said to make more money from Android protection money than its own Windows Mobile operating system.

By now, the EFF, the FTC, and a hornet's nest of angry FOSS coders might emerge, except none of them have nexus to litigate, as only the OEMs have been approached, and some say, shaken down. It's probably a legal shakedown, as there are ostensibly hundreds, if not thousands of patents to be cited and argued, one at a time. It's unlikely this will happen. It's too expensive for the OEMs to fight.

Microsoft won't be embarrassed that Android makes more moolah than their own stuff; they'll cash the checks. But it does bring into the question of the meaning of Eric Raymond's Cathedral and Bazaar, and the very concept of Stallman's Free. Linux vulnerability has been demonstrated, and every OEM using Linux or Android now faces potential protracted litigation, or usury to Microsoft. And still, no one is screaming bloody murder. Would Red Hat OEM their UIs to someone? Would Microsoft shake down Red Hat? No—again—it's the OEM. The Google G1 phone was made by HTC, and HTC had to submit, not Google. Google appears exempt, as would Canonical, Ubuntu, RedHat, Attachmate/SUSE, and other Linux distro makers. Microsoft won't show up at their door.

If you're Acer, you already have an agreement; likely MSI and others that have OEM'd Microsoft's operating systems. If not, however, be prepared to pay Microsoft's piper. Microsoft's Steve Ballmer has carried out his threat, to the organizations that have nexus to be used over patent infringement.

Should you be an open source software maker, your OEM targets that sell your stuff are under attack. Each device carries a royalty charge now. This is the price you'll have to understand.

I'm still stunned that there is no outrage. No champions of FOSS are standing up to cry foul. No loud voices saying: lay the cards on the table. Instead, they're paying the dock. Philosophy be damned, I guess.

Buyers? They just want cools tuff. The lineage doesn't matter much unless it's cool and can be fixed, and doesn't make them snarl. Cool factor? That's a different story.

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