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Microsoft and I-O Data Sign Linux Patent Deal

Another Linux Vendor Bows to Microsoft Patent Claims

  • March 4, 2010
  • By Stuart Johnston

Just a week and a half after signing a patent licensing deal with Amazon covering the e-tailer's use of Linux, Microsoft announced it has inked another Linux patent licensing agreement, this time with a Japanese hardware company.

Neither Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) nor the Japanese company, I-O Data Device, revealed details of the agreement. However, in a short joint statement, the two said the deal "will provide I-O Data's customers with patent coverage for their use of I-O Data's products running Linux and other related open source software."

The agreements with Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) and I-O Data Device mark the latest development in the contentious relationship between Microsoft and the open source Linux community. In May 2007, Microsoft executives claimed that Linux infringed 235 of its patents, which outraged many open source supporters.

Though the rhetoric has since died down, Microsoft hasn't relented in targeting Linux's users on the basis of its patent claims.

"In recent years, Microsoft has entered into patent agreements with other leading companies that use Linux for their embedded devices, including Brother International Corp., Fuji Xerox Co. Ltd., Kyocera Mita Corp., LG Electronics, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and TomTom International BV," the Microsoft spokesperson said.

Whereas Microsoft's earlier pact with Amazon included patent cross-licensing, the deal with I-O Data -- which manufacturers PC memory, hard drives, solid-state drives, LCD displays and other PC peripherals and components -- has no such reciprocity. I-O Data will simply cut Microsoft a check for licensing Microsoft's patents, though neither party would say what patents were included in the agreement.

"I-O Data is a leading provider of devices for PCs and consumer electronics, and this patent licensing agreement covers its storage devices and routers, which run Linux," a Microsoft spokesperson said in an e-mail to InternetNews.com.

In the Amazon case, Microsoft also said its agreement covered the use of Linux on Amazon's servers, but again did not provide any details of what patents were at issue. Amazon also said it had paid Microsoft as part of its agreement.

Microsoft has sometimes resorted to the courts when it comes to its patents. The software giant sued GPS navigation device maker TomTom this time last year for patent infringement, but the two settled the case quietly a month later, with TomTom also paying Microsoft for using its patents.

That case did not directly have to do with Linux patents, however.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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