[Mono-list] something general about software patents

Andy Satori dru@druware.com
Wed, 13 Mar 2002 16:35:01 -0500

Bear in mind that what they *can* do and what they can *threaten* to do
are not really related topics.  More often than not, companies the size
of Microsoft or IBM can achieve the same goals through press releases
and public statements of intent as the can by calling on the lawyers.  

When those processes fail, it's absolutely legal for them to file a
suit, sick the legal hounds and bleed the victim with legal fees.  Just
because the victim is indeed right does not mean that they can always
win.  Winning can cost more than a small company like Ximian has in it's
reserves to fight.  Not many lawyers are willing to tak pro bono work
against a legal team the size of Microsoft or IBM.  

Mono to this point has done a lot of good for Microsoft, and I think
they know it.  Mono legitimizes their platform to a target audience they
cannot effectively embrace.  They are a marketing company and they know
this.  I wouldn't be at all surprised to find that the work for hire BSD
and open ended Linux port of the .NET framework that MS contracted to a
certain 3rd party with Linux experience, never gets completed, because
even that would not legitimize the platform as effectively as Mono does.

Even more to the point, with the license change to allow commercial
software to be built on the Mono framework, the door is now open for
them to accomplish the one thing that they seem to want most.  With
their internal commitment to bringing their business software to C# and
.NET, things like Great Plains Dynamix, Mono becomes the key to them
bringing a robust revenue generating platform to a previously
unreachable audience. 

Windows and Office have such a stranglehold on the marketplace, they
cannot continue to generate the kind of corporate growth that Microsoft
needs to maintain to sustain it's fiscal growth.  They have to succeed
with .NET to leverage themselves into a position where they can continue
the kind of exponential revenue increases that they have built their
business model around.  The truth is that there is an enormous risk in
staking their business on a model that has not proven itself yet, and a
business model that they have failed at in all previous attempts.
Microsoft has never been successful at generating revenue on services.  

Mono is for them a key, a holy grail that they cannot deliver
themselves, not for technical reasons but for marketing reasons.  If
they build a .NET for Linux, that is feature for feature equal with the
Windows version, the shareholders will revolt.  If they deliver it as an
MS product, without source, the Linux community in general will revolt,
not too mention the lack of clarity that most people outside the Gnu
community have about what exactly the GPL means, makes it too gray an
area for Microsoft to sell to the legal advisors that are busily
advising the investment groups that represent the shareholders who
aren't generally technical people but are instead our parents and
gandparents through pension funds, 401k's, IRA's and other investments
that depend upon the constant upswing in growth and revenue for their
increases in value.

So if you are Microsoft, you cannot come out and publicly say, 'Mono
presents a threat to the Windows platform' and file a law suit, or
exploit questionable patents without attracting the additional attention
from the ongoing anti-trust case, a case that is unlikely to be resolved
fully for years.  At the same time, they cannot publicly state 'Mono is
a great thing, it brings the vision of .NET to our competitors and
offers an opportunity to finally deliver on the promises Java made!'.
That statement would effectively send the investment community into
complete apoplexy because it's a tacit admission that Windows is not the
end all, be all.  This would be completely unacceptable to the legal,
marketing and investor relations groups. 

Of course the fact that one of the key men in developing C# and .NET
came from Borland, a company and a man notorious for keeping cross
platform options open.  Taking that a step further, the success of the
Mono development to this stage, to have a natively hosting compiler less
than a month after the commercial product release of the original
creators, done without the assistance of the original authors.  To have
a working interpreter on 2 different hardware architectures.  To have a
percentage, albeit small, of a working library / framework in such a
short time is a remarkable feat.  Do I think that Microsoft *can* hurt
the Mono projects with their patents, absolutely.  Can I see anything
that gain by doing so?  No. 

The easiest avenues for them to attack a project like Mono would be to
bleed Ximian, they could do that, but would that kill the project?
Unlikely, and more importantly, would such and action warrant the
backlash and bad publicity.  It's a very fine line they have to walk.
By submitting the spec to ECMA, I believe the worst case scenario is
that they force Ximian to pay a licensing fee for use of certain
patents, however, the danger here is that if they do so and choose not
to charge tose fees of their customers on Windows, the US Justice
Department, and likely the EU, will hang them.  The corporate customers
that Microsoft is counting on to leverage .NET and .NET MyServices
simply won't embrace a platform if they are looking at licensing fees
per transaction.  I don't think that Mono will have to support them
either ...

Just my long winded $.02 worth.  Software patents aren't the issue, it's
if it makes practical business sense to do anything with them.  Ask
Unisys & Compuserve if the GIF89A patents and licensing revenue was
worth the expensive of enforcing them.  I don't know about you, but I
have my doubts.  I know that my software development efforts wrote off
GIF support because as a small commercial developer I couldn't afford
the infrastructure needed to accurately track what I owed them.  I know
I'm not alone in that decision. 

Andy Satori

> -----Original Message-----
> From: mono-list-admin@ximian.com 
> [mailto:mono-list-admin@ximian.com] On Behalf Of Guenther Roith
> Sent: Wednesday, March 13, 2002 3:36 PM
> To: mono-list@ximian.com
> Subject: [Mono-list] something general about software patents
>  i think there are two reasons why the ms can't use their patents
> - most countrys (excepts the usa) don't accept software patents
> - they can't do anything against mono, as it is open source 
> and they could only force ximian in the usa (but not in 
> europe) to stop the development, as they can't forbid the use 
> of mono to the end user, can they?
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