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Microsoft accused of 'ulterior motive' in Linux patent sale

Redmond spreads 'fear, uncertainty, doubt'

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LinuxCon 2009 Does the troll-blocking organization that recently secured a set of supposedly Linux-related patents from Microsoft need sizing for a penguin-shaped tinfoil hat? Or was the IP sale really Redmond's secret scheme to "create fear, uncertainty, and doubt" in the open-source community?

On Monday, at LinuxCon in Portland, Oregon, Open Invention Network chief executive Keith Bergelt had more harsh words for Microsoft over Redmond's allegedly sinister sale. Apparently, Microsoft shopped its patents to several firms, including some notorious patent trolls, and it didn't offer them to OIN.

OIN ended up buying the patents from the middleman, Allied Security Trust (AST), a patent-holding group that gives its members perpetual licenses before reselling patents.

"We are obviously the most prominent acquirer of open-source and Linux patents," Bergelt said. "The fact that we were not approached could not be - if you assume that Microsoft has a lot of smart people as they do - could not be just an oversight that we weren't approached. The companies that were approached were, other than AST, non-practicing entities involved with litigation as a way of life."

Bergelt claims Microsoft was well aware that OIN would have paid top dollar to own and sit on the patents. Adding to the conspiracy is OIN's claim that Microsoft explicitly wanted potential buyers to know it was Linux-related IP on the block.

"These are patents that were presented as open source patents and presented as something relevant to Linux. And in some sense when you present things that way, you're prepping them so a troll, who's only model for business is to sue, to make sure they don't miss the target," Bergelt said. He claims many patents are sold "naked" - with just a patent number for the buyer to analyze itself.

"The only conclusion I can draw is that there is an ulterior motive to be had. And that ulterior motive was to create fear, uncertainty, and doubt in the community," Bergelt said.

He went on to hypothesize that Microsoft ultimately chose to sell to a "good guy" like AST so it could point the finger in another direction rather than see the community point back at Microsoft.

"They would have plausible deniability by being able to claim they sold to a defensive patent pool that's made up of a number of very stalwart companies," he said.

Microsoft shrugs its shoulders at all of OIN's allegations, saying: "When an interested buyer for this technology was identified, after discussing it both internally and with the potential buyer, we felt this was the right direction to go in relating to these specific patents."

Regardless of intentions, the patents are now safely guarded by OIN. It's an organization sworn to protect open source from trolls of all shapes and sizes, and it's helmed by a man dogged in his defense of Linux. ®

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