Will patents be Microsoft's downfall?

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The Microsoft – Linux controversy has been stoked further by the assertion that Microsoft will ultimately be the company hardest hit by patent litigation.

Ubuntu Linux founder Mark Shuttleworth is predicting that within a few years the software giant will itself be fighting against the software patents system and that this would make it a friend of the Linux community.

He is probably correct about Microsoft’s eventual opposition to patents, but whether that can ever diffuse the sort of heat provoked by Microsoft’s claims that Linux violates 235 of its patents is another thing. My enemy’s enemy is my friend, is an old adage, and not always good advice.

Microsoft has been trying to play down the row it stirred – its stance on patents does fly in the face of much that it is trying to do. But as so often in the past, its efforts to repair damage appear grudging and half-hearted.

Meanwhile the Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco has been providing some interesting news. The call for Google, having built its business on open source, to put something back into the collective pot, struck a chord with me.

So did Red Hat chairman and chief executive Matthew Szulik, who said there should be less focus on the patents issue and more on innovation. That is absolutely correct.

Microsoft smashed its way into enterprise IT because its products provided a practical solution to real needs. Open source software snuck into most enterprises, less because most IT professionals wanted to wage war against the great Satan, than because it too met a need at a price that could be paid.

Pragmatism, as I have said before, will rule and those suppliers that understand this will thrive. Those that try and railroad end users into technology choices while spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt about potential rivals, are hastening their own destruction.

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