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A senior executive at Hewlett Packard two years ago expressed fears that Microsoft would use its patent portfolio to close down the company's open source efforts. The concerns were expressed in a June 2002 memo by Gary Campbell, and HP confirmed their authenticity to Newsforge's Joe Barr.

"Basically Microsoft is going to use the legal system to shut down open source software, and for all of its cleverness, the GPL makes it fairly easy unless a white knight steps in," wrote Campbell. He warned that Samba, Wine, KDE, Gnome, Apache, Sendmail, and the Linux kernel itself are not covered by HP's cross-licensing agreements. Recipients of the memo included software chiefs then and now - Peter Blackmore and Nora Denzel, respectively - and HP's CTO, Shane 'Prince of Darkness' Robinson.

Campbell worried that HP's cross-licensing agreement did not protect the company from patent litigation on IP filed after June 2001.

However, the Free Software Foundation's Eben Moglen has explained that the GPL is robust against the kind of attack HP's Campbell suggests. HP says that the memo no longer relevant.

A year ago, Microsoft hired IBM's patent attorney Marshall Phelps, the executive who built IBM's royalty business from zero in 1985 to the billion dollar business it is today. "You don't just get patents for the sake of getting patents," Phelps told a legal symposium last May, shortly before decamping to Redmond. Last Fall, Microsoft introduced its first patent licensing program.

The Free/Open Source Software ommunity has taken steps to challenge the foundation of the first wave of IP programs, the FAT file system. The newly-formed Public Patent Foundation has succeeded in getting the US Patents and Trademarks Office to re-examine Microsoft's FAT patents, providing examples of prior art. ®

Related link

Campbell memo at NewsForge

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Microsoft FAT patents could be re-opened
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