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Microsoft EU Decision Protects OSS Projects From Suits 186

Posted by Zonk
from the at-least-we-hope-it-does dept.
rfc1394 writes "An article in Australia's IT News mentions that under its antitrust agreement with the European Union, 'Microsoft will publish an irrevocable pledge not to assert any patents it may have over the interoperability information against non-commercial open source software development projects.' Essentially, in addition to getting them to comply with the anti-trust decision, the EU has forced Microsoft to back off of its saber-rattling when it comes to EU open source projects. That protection in no way extends to US projects, of course."
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Microsoft EU Decision Protects OSS Projects From Suits

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  • by unity100 (970058) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @04:17PM (#21119501) Homepage Journal
    only eu bureaucrats could pull such 2 stunts in just one gig. when a bureaucracy works, it really shines.
    • by CodeBuster (516420) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @04:27PM (#21119665)
      Unfortunately, the bureaucracy has a way of expanding in order to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy.
      • by Fred_A (10934)
        I seem to remember that the size of the EU bureaucracy is roughly on par with that of the city of Paris...

        So while it might be that Paris has way too many people, it doesn't seem to be too extreme to me.
    • by Dogtanian (588974) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @04:28PM (#21119675) Homepage

      only eu bureaucrats could pull such 2 stunts in just one gig. when a bureaucracy works, it really shines.
      Well, perhaps. But also remember that it was the faceless, unelected, bureaucratic EU Commission that tried to use its power to force software patents (in their original form) through the European Parliament a couple of years back.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Daimanta (1140543)
        And failed. If all goes well, the system apparently works.
        • by Dogtanian (588974) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @04:56PM (#21120141) Homepage

          And failed. If all goes well, the system apparently works.
          That's naive; the system was still stacked in favour of the Commission's findings/wishes in that it effectively required an overwhelming rejection of them by the parliament itself for them not to go through. The fact that the Commission could re-present these after their initial rejection and (second time around) could effectively have won by default does not reflect well on this aspect of the EU, even though things worked out in this case.

          In short, the right decision was made in spite of (and not because of) the European Commission.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by rts008 (812749)
            "In short, the right decision was made in spite of (and not because of) the European Commission."

            As happens all too infrequently in the USA now days. *sigh* It used to be at least a LITTLE better here (USA), but , sadly not so much anymore.

            Not trying to 'put words in your mouth' or imply this was your point; I own up to this one as my own thoughts. Your comment just triggered my thoughts and reply.

            But I also agree with your point...as seen over the internet news and my rare foraging on network TV from my p
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Teun (17872)

        Well, perhaps. But also remember that it was the faceless, unelected, bureaucratic EU Commission

        Though I agree with the gist of you comment I have to point out the Commission is supposed to be bureaucratic precisely because they are unelected (at least not directly).
        The commission members are appointed by the democratically elected governments of the individual EU member states and as such have to answer to the voters in their respective home countries.
        Further I do not consider the commission member faceless, maybe because I actively follow European politics instead of only reading about it in nati

    • only eu bureaucrats could pull such 2 stunts in just one gig. when a bureaucracy works, it really shines.

      While better than nothing, this settlement doesn't go far enough as open source projects that are profitable still has to pay MS royalties, only .4 percent but they still have to pay them.

      Falcon
      • by SerpentMage (13390) <ChristianHGross.yahoo@ca> on Thursday October 25, 2007 @04:57PM (#21120155)
        That is actually pretty darn reasonable... You can develop open source software and IF you make a buck then you need to pay some minor royalities.

        Think of it as follows. TrollTech charges something like 3900 USD, which translates into a Microsoft revenue stream (assuming 0.4%) of about a million dollars. Trolltech has a small business of up 200,000. After that you pay full dollar. So Trolltech is charging profitable open source companies more than Microsoft...

        Don't know about you, but this does make Mono attractive on Linux. Mono on Linux is pretty good, and on Windows .NET is the way to go. So once your company makes a million bucks you need to start forking 3900 total (not per developer) over some money to Microsoft. Fair deal actually...
        • Don't know about you, but this does make Mono attractive on Linux. Mono on Linux is pretty good, and on Windows .NET is the way to go. So once your company makes a million bucks you need to start forking 3900 total (not per developer) over some money to Microsoft. Fair deal actually...

          I don't see or know what good .net is over other technologies such as Ruby on Rails, I'm not a developer now though I want to learn.

          Falcon
        • by Kristoph (242780)
          Yes, well, if you pay TrollTech for QT you have a world wide license. The 0.4% only covers the EU so there is a bit of a difference.

          ]{
  • Cool. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dino2gnt (1072530) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @04:20PM (#21119543) Homepage
    So, can projects threatened by patent infringement suits now move development to the EU?
    • Jeremy Allison the Samba co-founder is an EU citizen resident in the US. Does this help ?
      • At this stage in the game, I don't think MS would dare even threaten anything Samba related... even supposing they ever would've done.

        The *more interesting* question is probably, Does this agreement mean business will feel comfortable using open source projects?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Nazlfrag (1035012)
      Sure, or anywhere else that recognises that you can't patent mathematics. Like most of the planet.
  • by User 956 (568564) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @04:20PM (#21119547) Homepage
    Microsoft EU Decision Protects OSS Projects From Suits

    Which is good, because the OSS crowd is more into t-shirts and jeans.
    • by rts008 (812749)
      Jeans?

      The last I heard ( when R. Stallman was attacked by Ninjas), he was only wearing a t-shirt and sandals- did not even have his katana. (probably because no pants=no need for belt, thus no suitable place to belt the scabbard)

      Yes, I can see the media event of the OSS century:
      RMS, Theo, and Linus in nothing but t-shirts and sandals Deathmatch in a Cage! Coming to a theater near you soon!

      Hey, Jack Thompson, what would be the rating on this videogame?

      Did I stray way offtopic here?....Heh! Heh! Shame on me!
  • in no way extends (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sgt scrub (869860) <<moc.oohay> <ta> <muitnias>> on Thursday October 25, 2007 @04:20PM (#21119553)
    That protection in no way extends to US projects, of course.

    This, of course, insures profitable OSS projects will not be based in the US. Damn shame. Some of us like Tech jobs.
    • This, of course, insures profitable OSS projects will not be based in the US. Damn shame. Some of us like Tech jobs.


      Actually, it ensures nothing of the sort... "profitable" (read, for-profit) OSS projects aren't protected; only non-profit ones. I'm sure MS will have a heyday with the definition of "non-profit".
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by wolff000 (447340)
        "I'm sure MS will have a heyday with the definition of "non-profit"."

        If they give away their software they are non-profit. If they have a different branch that sells support not software they should be safe. I can see no real way for MS to go after a company that only sells support.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by BSAtHome (455370)
        That might actually be a hard thing to "heyday" with. A FLOSS project in itself, if it is a real FLOSS project, does not generate the revenue stream but only costs. The for-profit bit is for services. This could very well be the way out for all. Being compensated for the physical copy (as per GPL) cannot be construed as for-profit. The services rendered are arguably not for the software, but the application of the software. An example would be a consultant charging for performing install-services. The consu
        • All will depend on the correct split between the "non-profit project" and the "for-profit service".

          There should be no need for any split, unfortunately this ruling almost makes it mandatory.

          Falcon
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by BSAtHome (455370)
            I don't think so. I think it actually might strengthen projects and distributors. They do not charge for the FLOSS software, but for the act of copying and services rendered. So, in a sense, it is already narrowly defined and practiced. A developer who writes FLOSS code may be paid for his work. However, an employee is not in "business", but is making a living. There is a difference between a company making money and a person being paid wages.

            The problem will be for companies that use dual licensing models.
            • in a sense, it is already narrowly defined and practiced. A developer who writes FLOSS code may be paid for his work. However, an employee is not in "business", but is making a living. There is a difference between a company making money and a person being paid wages.

              And who's going to pay the developer? A business? The business would still have to pay the royalties.

              Falcon
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Did you read the settlement? It is the typical MS scheme of pretending to cave in while still protecting their vital interest, even if the vital interest, in many cases, is against a truly competitive market place. The exact thing the lawsuit was supposed to prevent in the future and apply just remedies for past non-conformation.

      They are promising to not sue "non-commercial" interests. If you look, they are orchestrating a proxy campaign against commercial open source, while senior executives such as Ballme
    • by mrbluze (1034940) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @05:22PM (#21120515) Journal

      This, of course, insures profitable OSS projects will not be based in the US. Damn shame. Some of us like Tech jobs.

      Nah, it just means that you guys in the US will have to keep living the American DRM.

    • by burndive (855848)
      From the article:

      "Microsoft will now do so, with licensing terms that allow every recipient of the resulting software to copy, modify and redistribute it in accordance with the open source business model," Kroes said in a statement.

      All US projects will have to do will be to have someone in Europe touch the code, and license it back to them. They will have received it from the EU, and therefore will be under the same protections.

  • ... the sharp sword of unbridled capitalism won't be dulled here in the US! A wonderful victory for the go-getters at MS!
  • by adept256 (732470) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @04:26PM (#21119649)
    As an Australian, I think this whole argument goes beyond Microsoft or any other GloboCorp. We are facing a tumultuous election campaign over here. There's much venom between the parties vying for election. This issue highlights a much over-looked aspect of Australian politics; do we take our values and principles from the EU? or from south-east asia? Should Australia join the EU? or should we go down the ASEAN route?
    • by oatworm (969674)
      Neither - join NAFTA!

      (Ducks)
    • When thinking about Microsoft and patents on algorithms, I cant't help remembering the way toast goes black when I burn it - or paint it black.

      Maybe I'm off-topic, or maybe you just can't see the meta4.

      One thing about elections is people vote. Then sometimes the votes are counted. That's what I like about toast... and GloboCorp. Got me?

      Then again, maybe some Australians are just Turkeys - y'know, the ones who get their values from the US?

    • by johannesg (664142)
      I'm a citizen of the EU. Although Australia might challenge the geographical definition of "Europe" by a bit, I'd much rather see the EU extend its borders with countries that share a common culture (like Australia and Canada) then with countries that are nominally in or around Europe (like Turkey).
  • by penix1 (722987) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @04:29PM (#21119701) Homepage

    Microsoft will publish an irrevocable pledge not to assert any patents it may have over the interoperability information against non-commercial open source software development projects.'


    Umm... Is it just me or is this just mealy mouthed enough to get projects into HUGE trouble down the road when they are distributed commercially? Just what is Microsoft's definition of "non-commercial"?
    • by jesterzog (189797) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @05:11PM (#21120381) Homepage Journal

      These were also my first thoughts in reading the summary. From the article, the European Commissioner for Competition Policy says (emphasis is mine):

      "I told Microsoft that it should give legal security to programmers who help to develop open source software and confine its patent disputes to commercial software distributors and end users. Microsoft will now pledge to do so."

      Presumably all this means is that Microsoft won't be going after developers, but it may still be going after anyone who makes use of those developers' efforts. It's some good news for developers, but it's not exactly a let off the hook if you can't tell your users with any confidence that they won't be sued by Microsoft for obscure patents that wouldn't hold up in the face of anyone who could afford to defend themselves. If anything, this might give Microsoft more power to spread FUD about OSS. They're just narrowing the target, basically saying that it's okay to develop OSS, but they might not let people use it without paying up.

      Hopefully the linked article isn't representative of what the actual arrangement is. For the thing to be of any use, Microsoft really needs to be pledging that they won't enforce whatever patents they claim to have at all.

    • Their promise also says nothing about not asserting patent rights against USERS of the software that comes out of such open-source projects.
    • by arkhan_jg (618674)
      Well, since all software patents are currently non-enforceable in the EU anyway, does it matter?
      • by Cato (8296)
        This idea that software patents are not allowed in the EU is a myth, at least in the UK - there are many software patents out there (I know people who've been granted on) and they typically do it by talking about a hardware device that has the software embedded. However, such patents can be used against pure softwre. Once the patents are granted they would be used in the normal way and tested in court, but if they are done properly there's no reason to think they are not enforceable.

    • by Kristoph (242780)
      It's very simple. If you don't make money, you can do as you wish without fear of MSFT. If you make money you have to pay MSFT 0.4% of your EU revenue. It seems very reasonable to me.

      In fact, it is so reasonable, that it makes me wonder if, should MSFT decide to take on OSS legally in the US, the software innovation pendulum would swing in-favor of the EU.

      ]{
  • by innocent_white_lamb (151825) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @04:31PM (#21119735)
    non-commercial open source software only? So any commercial use of that software will still open you up to infringement claims? If so, what's the point. MS is not worried about little Joey using FOSS in his basement for "non-commerical purposes". The use of that same software in a data center is apparently not covered by this agreement, so again... what's the point?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Non-commercial development, not non-commercial use.
      • Open source can still be commercial. All open source is is a business model, there's closed source proprietary and open source business models, along with others.

        Falcon
        • Right, but MS have only said they wouldn't hassle non-commercial OSS developers. That set doesn't contain OSS users, nor commercial OSS developers.
          • Right, but MS have only said they wouldn't hassle non-commercial OSS developers. That set doesn't contain OSS users, nor commercial OSS developers.

            That's why it is bad, it doesn't shield OSS projects that are for profit, ie commercial.

            Falcon
            • by Kalriath (849904)
              Why should it? If you're making a profit based on a technology someone else poured millions on R&D into, why should you be able to use that technology without contributing back to the company that paid millions to invent it? Instead we have Open Source companies (not all of them, but a few of them) which deliberately attempt to undermine Microsoft, and using a licensing agreement that explicitly prevents Microsoft from using the improvements to their own work (GPL).

              Now, this only applies to technologi
              • Why should it? If you're making a profit based on a technology someone else poured millions on R&D into, why should you be able to use that technology without contributing back to the company that paid millions to invent it?

                Why should it? Because it creates it's own way to interoperate and tries to prevent vender lockin.

                Falcon
  • by Facetious (710885) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @04:33PM (#21119759) Journal
    Scene opens at Imperial Headquarters, Redmond. Imperial march plays and quiets as conversation begins.

    Bill: Man, I am getting so tired of the EU. I am going to have to buy Europe. Bring me my checkbook.

    Accountant: Sir, it's a little out of your price range.

    Bill: (Staring blankly) Price range?

    Accountant: Yes, sir. It costs more than you have, especially since most of your money is in dollar currency.

    Bill: (Picks up phone.) Steve, get in here. And bring your chair.
  • Microsoft will publish an irrevocable pledge not to assert any patents it may have over the interoperability information against non-commercial open source software development projects.

    What makes a project non-commercial? If one unemployed guy runs a project that 99 developers from Red Hat contribute to, is the project non-commercial?

    "I told Microsoft that it should give legal security to programmers who help to develop open source software and confine its patent disputes to commercial software distributo

    • by dhasenan (758719)

      What makes a project non-commercial? If one unemployed guy runs a project that 99 developers from Red Hat contribute to, is the project non-commercial?

      Conversely, if a Red Hat developer submits a ten-line patch to a project, is that then a commercial project?

      With FLOSS, it's not useful to talk of a project as commercial or noncommercial in most cases. The distribution can be commercial or noncommercial, though. So if I create a project in the EU, never get any money for it, and it gets distributed with Suse (for instance), Suse's commercial and their distribution of my code is commercial.

      What the courts decide is something else entirely, and I look forwa

  • of non-commercial OSS programs. Everyone who sells OSS will have to pay a fee; and it only applies to interoperability patents. Sure, MS only gets a fraction of the revenue cut they wanted; but it still means they get money from vendors.

    I wonder if the EU defined what is "revenue from OSS projects that infringe on MS patents."

    While the agrement will help protect developers it still leaves a lot of open questions concerning the sale and use of the resultant programs.

    For example:

    What is commercial use?
    What
  • What about open source distributors and users? Just asking. Fully expecting Microsoft to violate the spirit of this settlement as usual and land back in court in a year or so.
  • by zappepcs (820751) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @04:46PM (#21119963) Journal
    Several of the 'startups' on the MS buy list are currently known as governments or regulatory bodies across the globe. Who would have thought that? Each day that passes makes me more certain that nuclear war will not end the human race... we will starve to death when the food vending machines finally suffer that one last BSOD.
  • "Irrevocable pledge?" To translate, what they're really saying is this: "We're Microsoft and we won't sue you. We promise! And furthermore, we absotively posilutely guarantee that all future generations of management here at Microsoft won't sue you either." You'd have to have rocks in your head to believe that one.

    I hope the EU's regulators have too much on the ball to swallow this malarkey. Microsoft couldn't keep a promise if their very existence depended upon it.
  • What's stopping MS just getting a puppet company asserting patents on their behalf? Not that they've ever [fnord SCO] do that, of course.
  • 'Microsoft will publish an irrevocable pledge not to assert any patents it may have over the interoperability information against non-commercial open source software development projects.'


    Aren't software patents banned in the EU anyway? So, aside from the fact that this was forced out of them, does it mean anything in the first place?
    • by Iloinen Lohikrme (880747) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @06:15PM (#21121217)

      Actually EU doesn't have anything to do with patents right now. A few years down ago EU Commission tried to bring legislation that would have introduced EU wide harmonization of patents and brought unified judicial system. As the European Parliament didn't accept the directive, the attempted legislation was withdrawn. More about the subject. [wikipedia.org]

      How ever there is European Patent Organization [wikipedia.org] which works by the power of European Patent Convention. EPO is fully independent organization and isn't part of EU. EPO actually is the only organization in Europe causing real grief in regards of patents. They award software patents even if they don't have any power to do so. Many big corporations and also smaller companies have applied basically pure software patents from EPO. How ever as the EPO really doesn't have power to award these kind of patents, the situation is that those patents are more or less worthless. They also will stay worthless even if EU would make software patents legal as those patents were filed and awarded before they were legal.

      In my company we have talked and researched the software patent issue some what. My own point of view is that software patents are worthless and as long as the member state we operate doesn't allow software patents, we don't have any reason to worry. I really do hope that this situation will stay the same as the business of software company is to make software and solve customers problems, not pay big fat checks to lawyers.

  • Interesting (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Master of Transhuman (597628) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @05:24PM (#21120543) Homepage
    Does this mean that if Microsoft asserts patents against US OSS projects that they can relocate to Europe and be home free?

    I hear a "giant sucking sound"...

    How do you establish whether an OSS project is "here" or "there" anyway, when the developers are all over the place?

  • Doesn't this only refer to the server connectivity side of things which was what the EU ruling dealt with? What they're saying is that the protocols they've been forced to licence by the EU will be licenced to OSS projects for free. I'm reading lots of messages here that seem to indicate people think this will give permission to use ALL patents relating to Windows.
  • The devil is in the details.
  • So, um, if I have someone helping me out with my code (I live in the US, s/he lives in Germany,) is my project (and transitively, I) protected by said ruling? Or are my friend, my project, and I all screwed? Let's look at the three possibilities:

    A) I am the primary coder
    B) My friend and I contribute equally
    C) My friend is the primary coder
  • Microsoft will publish an irrevocable pledge not to assert any patents it may have over the interoperability information against non-commercial open source software development projects

    So how does this protect me as a business owner who wants the freedom to hire whomever I want to maintain my in-house software? Oh, it doesn't? Great!

  • "Non-commercial" is such a weasel word. Is gcc distributed by the FSF "non-commercial"? Is gcc on Ubuntu "non-commercial"? Is gcc on a purchased copy of SuSE "non-commercial"? Is Firefox "non-commercial"? Is OpenOffice "non-commercial"?

    Now, I don't think it matter much; Microsoft is slowly painting themselves into a corner, and it's implausible that they really can assert those patents at all in the future. Nevertheless, it would be better if the EU were alert to those kinds of weasel words and would
    • That leaves them open to attack everything from Samba to Red Hat Package Manager.

      And, yes, I think it DOES matter.

      Microsoft has managed to pretty much completely win everything that people keep saying they'd lost. This kind of thing is why I was skeptical of the EU deal from the start.
  • What is an EU open source project? It means non-eu people couldn't submit a patch?
    I thought open source projects are all international.

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