How Microsoft acts when it *really* feels its patents are violated

Microsoft behaves very differently when it feels its patents are threatened. It acts like an adult.

Microsoft rarely sues anyone, but gets sued plenty. It's interesting, therefore, that when Microsoft recently took legal action against an alleged patent violator, the subject is hardware, not software, and relates to its mouse technology, of all things, and not something more significant like, say, its Windows cash cow.

As noted elsewhere on CNET , Microsoft filed a complaint [PDF] with the U.S. International Trade Commission against Taiwanese hardware maker, Primax, over allegations that Primax violated seven Microsoft patents related to two technologies - TiltWheel and U2 - used in computer mice.

In a sign of how Microsoft acts when it really feels its patents are being violated, Microsoft's Horacio Gutierrez, a Microsoft vice president and deputy general counsel for intellectual property and licensing, indicated that Microsoft approached Primax multiple times over two years to try to resolve the issue. In other words, the company was quite reasonable and consistent in its approach.

Now compare this to how Microsoft engaged the Linux community over the alleged violation of no less than 235 of its patents back in 2007. No quiet discussions with the alleged violators (No, the Novell patent deal doesn't count, as Novell never even remotely suggested it had violated any of Microsoft's patents). Just a big Fortune interview, a few grenades launched, and then absolutely nothing beyond continued bursts of FUD.

With Primax, Microsoft demonstrates that it cares deeply about its intellectual property, but also that it knows grown-up ways to deal with protection of that intellectual property. In markets like computer mice it knows how to behave, but when the stakes are high...it yells loudly and stomps its feet?

Microsoft has publicly stated that it doesn't know how to have "grown-up" discussions with open source because there's no one corporate entity with which to negotiate. No cathedral, as it were.

But that's OK. Red Hat has shown how to work with the open-source communities . It's really not that hard, once you get your head around the importance of downstream users and contributors . Just follow Red Hat's example.

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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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