Microsoft claims that open-source software like Linux infringes on 235 of its patents (which ones, it won't say).
The intricacies of open-source software's general public license (GPL) make it difficult for Microsoft to sign cross-licensing deals with open-source software distributors, even though it tried to get around those strictures in a deal last fall with Novell.
That means Microsoft's only legal option is to go after its customers. As Fortune reports, it's already had some of those discussions and may do so again:
Since the GPL covered only distributors of Linux, nothing stopped Smith from seeking royalties directly from end users - many of which are Fortune 500 companies. He would have to proceed carefully, however, because most of those users were also major Microsoft customers.
. . . In the meantime, with Microsoft seemingly barred from striking pacts with distributors, only one avenue appears open to it: paying more friendly visits to its Fortune 500 customers, seeking direct licenses.
If push comes to shove, would Microsoft sue its customers for royalties, the way the record industry has?
"That's not a bridge we've crossed," says CEO Ballmer, "and not a bridge I want to cross today on the phone with you."
It's a sign of the times that patent wars are coming to an area that was designed to be unpatentable.