Patent troll launches desktop Linux lawsuit. Is Microsoft involved?

Is Microsoft behind a new lawsuit against Novell and Red Hat?

Sometimes you just have to sing. I read Groklaw's report on a new lawsuit launched by IP Innovation (subsidiary of Acacia) against Novell and Red Hat over Linux desktop infringements of its "a User Interface with Multiple Workspaces for Sharing Display System Objects" patent and just wanted to break out into Stephen Sondheim:

Isn't it rich?
Isn't it queer?
Losing my timing this late
In my career?
And where are the clowns?
Quick, send in the clowns.
Don't bother - they're here.

Why clowns? Well, the more Groklaw digs into this, the more it looks like the ultimate patent troll/clown, Microsoft, may be behind this all. Some might say that Ballmer always sings on cue, and surely his commentary about Red Hat last week may be coincidence or simply poor timing, but Monsieur le Troll must be smiling, regardless.

Groklaw writes:

IP Innovation LLC has just filed a patent infringement claim against Red Hat and Novell. It was filed October 9, case no. 2:2007cv00447, IP Innovation, LLC et al v. Red Hat Inc. et al, in Texas. Where else? The patent troll magnet state.

The first ever patent infringement litigation involving Linux. Here's the patent, for those who can look at it without risk. If in doubt, don't. Here's the complaint [PDF].

And now let's play, where's Microsoft? You know, like where's Waldo? Betcha he's in the tree's leaves somewhere if we look close enough. We had our first hint when Steve Ballmer said in his speech the other day that he figured other folks besides Microsoft would want Red Hat and FOSS to pay them for their patents. Remember? Is he a prophet or merely well informed? Or is there more to this? When I lay out all the research, you can decide.

But for Microsoft's bad timing in the past with SCO, I'd be inclined to downplay possible involvement here. But Ballmer can't seem to stop humming this tune, no matter how off his harmonizing. As Groklaw points out, Acacia (the parent company) has hired two Microsoft henchmen in the last six months, one a patent troll (hired on October 1). It's filled to the brim with patent clowns. (Ironic how Microsoft mints these people.)

Apple apparently paid these IP Innovation clowns to go away earlier this year. (You may remember that the new Leopard has a cool feature for multiple desktops.) The open-source community shouldn't. There's virtually no money at stake - neither Red Hat nor Novell makes much money from their respective Linux desktops. Hence, it's a matter of principle. Principles matter and will cost far more in the future.

I think it's time to test out the Open Invention Network and let IP Innovation get a feel for what it's like to sue a community. I can't see Oracle having much of an appetite for involvement, given its lack of desktop business, but IBM and others may well see the need to get involved in this otherwise pointless litigation about old technology (Xerox Parc innovation) and new scores to settle (Microsoft versus the world).

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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