Although the list of high-profile Linux vendors who've signed intellectual property cross-licensing agreements with Microsoft has grown quickly in the past few months, the list of those who've refused to collude with the software giant has gotten less press. Nonetheless, the list of companies that have refused to sign with Microsoft is growing, and these companies are sure to find support from within the open-source community they represent.
"We don't believe it is necessary for us to get protection from Microsoft to do our job, or to pay protection money to anyone," Mandriva CEO Francois Bancilhon wrote in his company's corporate blog. "We are, to say the least, not great fans of software patents and of the current patent system, which we consider as counterproductive for the industry as a whole. Up to now, there has been absolutely no hard evidence from any of the FUD propagators that Linux and open-source applications are in breach of any patents. So we think that, as in any democracy, people are innocent unless proven guilty and we can continue working in good faith."
Mandriva is joining other major Linux makers, such as Ubuntu and Red Hat, in foregoing IP cross-licensing deals with Microsoft. As a result, they stand opposed to Linux companies such as Novell, Linspire, and Xandros, all of which have jumped on the cross-licensing bandwagon. Aside from Novell, most of the Linux companies that have signed with Microsoft are among the smallest and least financially stable. Meanwhile, Ubuntu and Red Hat are among the most powerful Linux vendors, and it's notable that both have rejected Microsoft offers.
"We have declined to discuss any agreement with Microsoft under the threat of unspecified patent infringements," Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth wrote in his own blog over the weekend. "Allegations of 'infringement of unspecified patents' carry no weight whatsoever. We don’t think they have any legal merit, and they are no incentive for us to work with Microsoft on any of the wonderful things we could do together. A promise by Microsoft not to sue for infringement of unspecified patents has no value at all and is not worth paying for. It does not protect users from the real risk of a patent suit from a pure-IP-holder (Microsoft itself is regularly found to violate such patents and regularly settles such suits)."
Although Shuttleworth raises some good points, it's not clear that cross-licensing deals with Microsoft have no value, especially for smaller open-source companies, which might otherwise have no inroads with enterprises. That, of course, is where the real money is, and risk-averse corporations are more likely to choose safer technologies over those that have potential IP problems.