Microsoft beefs up protections for PC makers

As part of its anti-Linux strategy, company will expand legal protection against claims that Microsoft products violate trade secret laws.

Microsoft is again expanding the amount of legal protection it offers partners, adding coverage for trade secret claims as well as partial indemnification for smaller computer makers.

Under new changes expected to be announced Thursday, Microsoft will expand its protection for computer makers and others that distribute Microsoft's products to cover claims that their use of Microsoft products violates trade secret laws. The company already offers them indemnity against copyright, trademark, patent and trade secret claims.

The move is part of the company's strategy to combat the Linux operating system. Microsoft is also adding protection for smaller computer makers, known as system builders. However, unlike the unlimited protections offered to larger computer makers, their protection will be capped at roughly the value of the business they do with Microsoft during a two-year time frame.

The software maker already protects nearly all customers of its products, and in July 2003, the company lifted a monetary cap on the amount Microsoft would pay for such claims.

"We've sort of continued to ratchet up our coverage," said David Kaefer, head of Microsoft's intellectual property licensing effort.

Kaefer said that the main purpose of the latest changes is to prevent patent holders from trying to indirectly attack Microsoft on intellectual property claims.

"You should come to Microsoft," Kaefer said. "You shouldn't come to our customers or our partners."

However, he said that the company does see its legal protections as a selling point against competitors, particularly open-source rivals. Microsoft has used indemnification as one of the latest planks in its anti-Linux "Get the Facts" campaign.

Kaefer said that Microsoft has on occasion seen claims against computer makers that sell systems running its software. For example, Lucent at one point sued computer makers Gateway and Dell over claims related to Microsoft products. However, he could not point to any examples of publicly disclosed legal action against smaller "system builders."

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