Microsoft has signed a broad cross-licensing agreement with close partner Samsung Electronics that includes a controversial provision granting the Korean electronics conglomerate rights to patents that Microsoft claims have been illegally borrowed by the Linux operating system.
Samsung is the third company to ink a similar cross-licensing pact, which critics said de facto advances Microsoft’s unproven claims to Linux-related intellectual property. The first deal, an alliance signed 2 November between Microsoft and long-time rival Novell, saw the latter firm agreeing to pay Microsoft $40m (£20m) in return for immunity for Novell’s customers against any Linux-related patent violations.
Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer riled the open-source community a few weeks later when he openly said that because of Linux’s unauthorised use of Microsoft intellectual property, "every Linux customer basically has an undisclosed balance-sheet liability".
His comments drew rebukes from open-source community members and vendors, including Novell, which argued that it was absurd for Microsoft to claim its patents are violated by the free open-source operating system. But they warned that the more such pacts Microsoft signs, the better its as yet unproven claims may look in court if Microsoft someday tries to enforce them.
The deal means Samsung will be able to use Microsoft’s patents in its wide range of consumer electronic and PC products. Microsoft will gain access to Samsung’s large patent portfolio "relating to digital media and computer-related inventions". An unspecified amount of money will be exchanged between the two firms compensating each company for the value of their respective patent portfolios.
Besides Samsung and Novell, Microsoft agreed last month to a cross-licensing deal with Fuji Xerox that includes Linux patent protection for the Japanese firm.