Just how valuable are those 'Linux-related' Microsoft patents?

Open Invention Network bought 22 Linux-related Microsoft patents to protect Linux, but how valuable could they be given Microsoft's willingness to sell them?

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
2 min read

Just how valuable are the Linux-related patents that Microsoft recently sold?

The Open Invention Network (OIN), a patent defense coalition for Linux whose members include IBM and Red Hat, trumpeted the news that it had bought 22 Linux-related patents from Allied Security Trust (AST) in a bid to protect Linux. Microsoft, which sold the patents to AST, claims the patents "weren't important," as noted in The Wall Street Journal.

Did the OIN get value or garbage?

Microsoft has long presented itself as the looming patent threat to Linux, once claiming that 235 of its patents are violated by Linux. But the AST patents, which cover 3D graphics, are apparently not among that group of core Microsoft patents allegedly violated by Linux.

If Microsoft didn't care about the patents, why should OIN?

It's a question ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley is asking, and rightly so. As CNET's Ina Fried notes, it's possible that Microsoft was looking to offload the patents to a patent troll, one that could litigate against Linux by proxy. This same strategy is apparently being used by Intellectual Ventures, a patent-holding (and trolling) firm that may be selling patents to litigious buyers to generate revenue.

OIN CEO Keith Bergelt speculates as much, insinuating that Microsoft may have "had ulterior motives" in selling to AST, a firm that has a "catch and release" policy that would see the Linux-related patents pushed back onto the open market after a year, and potentially fall into the hands of a patent troll, as eWeek reports,

But this seems like a rather klugey way for Microsoft to go after Linux. If it wanted to ensure the patents made it into the right (or wrong, depending on your point of view) hands, it could have sold the patents directly to a Microsoft-friendly patent troll. The fact that OIN wasn't allowed to directly participate in Microsoft's patent auction says little about the company's ultimate (and allegedly "ulterior") motives.

Faith is great in religion--it's not a viable business strategy.

I'm left wondering just how much protection OIN scored for Linux with the purchase of these 22 3D graphics patents. If the patents were core to Microsoft, it wouldn't have sold them for simply the off-chance that the patents might eventually find their way to a litigious patent troll. Microsoft tends to be more direct with its anti-Linux message, a fact borne out by its recent scurrilous Best Buy training FUD.

I suspect that the patents truly weren't very important to Microsoft. This doesn't mean their value to OIN is diminished, but it's probably not time to uncork the champagne at the "coup" scored at the local patent yard sale.

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