Interviews

Linus Torvalds: Microsoft Just Made Up The Number

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Linus Torvalds shares with Swapnil Bhartiya his views on Microsoft’s claim that Linux infringes on at least 235 of its patents.

Swapnil: How concrete are the claims made by Microsoft that Linux infringes on approximately 235 of its patents, which have not been named?
Linus:How concrete? Since Microsoft hasn’t named them, there is no ‘concrete’. For all we know, Microsoft just made up the number.

Swapnil: The US Supreme Court recently ruled in favour of Microsoft in its dispute with AT&T. Ironically, could that be used against Microsoft?
Linus: I agree that the recent Supreme Court ruling seems to weaken patents (and they actually left it open whether ‘intangible’ things like software can be patented at all!), but I actually suspect that Microsoft too is really happy with that ruling. Microsoft is likely to have many more patent problems than Linux could ever have, and in general, most high-tech companies actually dislike patents; so I suspect Microsoft felt relieved that the Supreme Court limited at least some of the insanity of the current patent system.

And it doesn’t seem to impact the point of the Microsoft posturing with respect to open source: they seem to be in it for the FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt), rather than for any actual legal reasons.

Swapnil: How secure/protected should a Linux user feel in the wake of these allegations?
Linus: Personally, I think it’s just posturing. And if it results in more companies doing patent cross-licencing with Microsoft, I think Microsoft will be happy – that may well be the primary motivation. But I’m not a lawyer, nor do I intend to start playing one on TV (or in the tech press). So this is just my personal interpretation. The fact that Microsoft didn’t actually name any of the patents makes me think it’s just FUD and hot air.

Swapnil: How is the Linux community preparing to defend itself?
Linus: Again, none of the patents were named. We actually have much better IP rights controls than anybody else in the industry, thanks to everything being out in the open. There’s no question that we’d ever have any hidden thing that secretly violates somebody else’s patents or copyrights.

Swapnil: What do you think Microsoft wants to achieve through this threat? What are the prospects Microsoft may sue the customers using open source?
Linus: I really cannot speak for Microsoft. I suspect they are noticing that they have a hard time competing on technical merit or price and are trying to muddy the waters. I think they’ve already stated that they aren’t in it to sue people, but again — you’re asking the wrong person.

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Swapnil Bhartiya
I have more than 12 years of experience covering Enterprise Open Source, Cloud, Containers, IoT, Machine Learning and general tech. My stories cover a very broad spectrum - traditional Linux, data center and Free Software to contemporary emerging technologies like 'serverless'. Widely Read: My stories have appeared in a multitude of leading publications including CIO, InfoWorld, Network World, The New Stack, Linux Pro Magazine, ADMIN Magazine, HPE Insights, Raspberry Pi Geek Magazine, SweetCode, Linux For You, Electronics For You and more.

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