Linux patent lawsuit: follow the money

If there's no money in the Linux vendors, why sue them?

Mark Radcliffe hints at something that I hope isn't true: that open source's growth might make it a prime candidate for patent trolls. This is one of the primary things that has bothered me about the IP Innovation lawsuit against Red Hat and Novell, two Linux desktop companies:

There is no Linux desktop market, and comparatively little in the bank accounts of both companies. Why sue penny pinchers when you can instead sue the sugar daddy?

Still, Mark writes:

The open source industry provides a tempting target because of its rapid growth....Given the time that it takes to prepare a patent lawsuit, [Microsoft's Brad Brunnell's] hiring probably did not affect the filing of this lawsuit. However, the hiring may indicate the addition of a new business line for Acacia: suits against open source companies. Steve Ballmer's recent comments about Red Hat's obligation to pay Microsoft for alleged use of its patents makes this lawsuit and the timing of the move interesting.

But why sue two companies with nonexistent desktop businesses when Microsoft provides the biggest potential jackpot of all? (After all, this same company sued and settled with Apple earlier this year.) Unless, of course, it is Microsoft funding the whole thing?

Patent trolls don't make money on vague principles. They make money by suing (and, generally, settling with) large companies that have big bank accounts.

Novell and Red Hat aren't pygmies, by any stretch, but they're a waste of time compared to Microsoft. Again, unless it's Microsoft that is funding this thing.

Which leads me back to Deep Throat's counsel in Watergate years ago. Want to find the group behind this patent suit? Follow the money: who has it (but isn't being sued), and who doesn't, but is. There is only one possible winner in this lawsuit, and it's not the consumer. It's Microsoft. The money leads to Microsoft.

Tech Culture
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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