That was written in 1976, well before even the GNU project started. But GNU and Linux and all the other amazing and amazingly-successful free software projects answer Bill Gates' rhetorical question in a way he certainly never expected. They demonstrate beyond dispute that hobbyists collectively *can* and *do* put many years into programming, debugging and documenting their code and distributing it for free, and that the results are as good as and often better than anything companies like Microsoft can product.
now the industry is in the process of sorting out what royalties will be for the software stack, which now represents the principal value proposition for smartphones.
This was where he was leading:
In the next few years, as the IP situation settles in this space and licensing takes off, we will see the patent royalties applicable to the smartphone software stack settle at a level that reflects the increasing importance software has as a portion of the overall value of the device. In the interim, though, we should expect continued activity.
Translated: smartphones are mostly about the kind of software that Microsoft produces; we have lots of patents in this area, and we are going to collect much more in this area – if necessary, through lawsuits (“continued activity”) of the kind Apple is bringing.
The question, of course, is against whom will Microsoft be bringing those lawsuits? And the answer, presumably, is everyone that makes smartphone software stacks, since these computer-like technologies will doubtless overlap with some of the doubtless broad and obvious patents that Microsoft will claim to have.
Some companies, used to these kind of games, will simply cross-license stuff if they have a big enough portfolio of similarly obvious patents. Others will just cough up some dosh to get Microsoft off their backs. But amidst all these conventional players, there is one very unconventional one: Linux, in its various mobile incarnations.
Taking legal action against *all* companies producing software stacks for smartphones would allow Microsoft to claim with some semblance of plausibility that it was not specifically targeting Linux this time (unlike its previous sabre-rattling statements about patent infringement that were specifically aimed at Linux). But the net effect would be that Linux would be the chief victim of such an approach, since any companies using it in their smartphones are likely to end up doing deals with Microsoft – and hence implicitly accepting its claims – whatever the open source community might think or want. It would be like Novell's pact with Microsoft, writ large and much worse.
As the final line of Gutierrez's piece puts it:
Apple v. HTC was not the beginning of this process, and it isn’t the end of the story either.
It will be interesting to see how that story unfolds, and what role Microsoft has decided to take in it.